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Austria offers help in solving Macedonia-Greece name dispute

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(SKOPJE) - Austria's Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger on Friday offered his country's help in solving the 18-year-long name dispute between Macedonia and Greece that has prevented Skopje from joining the EU and NATO.

"Austria can offer help if we are asked to, but I think the solution is (to be found) in bilateral talks" between Macedonia and Greece, Spindelegger said after talks with his Macedonian counterpart Antonio Milososki.

The name dispute should be "solved within the UN framework... between partners in Greece and Macedonia," he added.

Greece has been blocking international recognition of its northern neighbour under the name of Macedonia since the break-up of Yugoslavia in 1991.

Athens considers the name Macedonia part of its Greek heritage because of the northern Greek province with same name.

Macedonia joined the United Nations in 1993 under the provisional name of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), but UN-led negotiations on the name row have borne no solution yet.

Milososki welcomed Austria's offer, saying that Macedonia "is ready to continue talks with Greece."

"Our aim and goal is to reach a solution which can be seen as a compromise both in Macedonia and Greece," Milososki said.

Last week, visiting Slovenian Prime Minister Borut Pahor also offered help in solving the dispute. Slovenia is the only EU member of all six former Yugoslav republics.

Macedonia has been an official EU candidate nation since December 2005 but has not yet begun any of the detailed negotiations required prior to membership.

In December, the EU announced it had pushed back a decision to allow Macedonia to enter membership talks to the first semester of 2010. Such a decision requires unanimity from the EU members including Greece.

Last year, Greece also blocked Skopje's membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.

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