Historic or not? Greece and US lost in translation over North Macedonia

US State Secretary Mike Pompeo visits Greece [EPA-EFE/YANNIS KOLESIDIS]

A joint statement signed on Monday (28 September) between the US and Greece, during a visit by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, has sent confusing messages about whether Washington and Athens consider the North Macedonia name change deal (Prespa Agreement) historic or not.

The initial US-Greece statement [displayed below] referred to a “historic” Prespa Agreement. The English version of the statement was immediately published on the Greek foreign affairs ministry website but the Greek version was not published at all.

However, a couple of hours later, the word “historic” disappeared from the joint statement posted on both the website of the Greek Foreign Affairs Ministry and of the US embassy in Athens.

Neither side has so far provided an explanation for this change.

6 [Greek ministry of foreign affairs]

Pompeo is paying a crucial visit today to Thessaloniki, in northern Greece, and Chania on the island of Crete, two places not picked by chance, Greek media reported.

The visit to Thessaloniki confirms Washington’s interest in northern Greece in the context of its competition with Russia for political and economic supremacy in the Balkan region.

Russian oligarchs have been influential in Greece’s north and have even attempted to block the name-change deal with North Macedonia (Prespa Agreement) several years ago.

When New Democracy, the conservative party of Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, was in opposition, it firmly opposed the Prespa Agreement, which was pushed forward by the leftist government of Alexis Tsipras.

Many New Democracy lawmakers even participated in the past in massive protests against the deal, disappointing many of their colleagues in Brussels and Washington.

When New Democracy took power, it made a swift volte-face and publicly supported the deal, as well as North Macedonia’s EU path.

Looking for a rapporteur

North Macedonia’s Prime Minister Zoran Zaev recently met with his Greek counterpart and agreed on three memorandums of understanding as part of the name change deal.

These memorandums need to go through the Greek parliament and Tsipras has asked for a roll-call vote, which is expected to put a number of conservative politicians in a difficult position.

“I expect 158 apologies,” Tsipras told lawmakers on Monday, referring to their previous opposition to the name change agreement.

So far, the Ruling New Democracy party was not able to find a rapporteur who would steer the three memorandums through parliament.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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