The United States Thursday said it will from now on refer to the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia as the "Republic of Macedonia." The decision drew a sharp protest from Greece, which says the name suggests territorial claims against its northern province of Macedonia.
The decision made by Secretary of State Colin Powell means little in practical terms, since U.S. officials have for the most part already been using the name "Macedonia" when referring to the Balkan country.
However, the move has angered U.S. NATO ally Greece, which bitterly opposed Macedonia's use of the name on grounds that it implied territorial ambitions against its northern province.
Greece accepted the new state's admission to the United Nations in 1993 on condition that it be provisionally referred to as the "Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" or its acronym "FYROM," which was detested by officials in the new country's capital, Skopje.
State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher said the decision reflects U.S. support for strides being made toward a lasting solution of the conflict between the country's Macedonian majority and ethnic-Albanian minority, which briefly flared into open conflict in 2001.
He acknowledged the U.S. move was timed to lend support to the Macedonian government as it prepares to hold a critical referendum Sunday on a political decentralization plan. The proposal, developed under the 2001 peace framework negotiated in the Macedonian town of Ohrid, would give more power to ethnic Albanians and make Albanian a second official language:
"We're trying to demonstrate, we're trying to express our support for the full implementation of these agreements including the decentralization," he said. "It's an important part of it, and that is one of the subjects covered in the referendum. We're trying show that the path the government has followed brings stability, brings acceptance, and brings recognition in the world for Macedonia and support for the path it has been following in terms of implementation of the Ohrid agreements."
Mr. Boucher noted that Macedonia has repeatedly denied having any territorial ambitions against Greece.
He said that by recognizing the country's chosen, constitutional name, the United States is seeking to underscore its commitment to a "permanent, multi-ethnic Macedonian state within its existing borders."
He also stressed the decision was not directed against Greece, and that it should not prejudice United Nations-sponsored talks underway since 1993 between Greece and Macedonia over the question of the name and related issues.
However Greek Foreign Minister Petros Molyviatis canceled a trip to a European Union summit in Brussels and called in the U.S. Ambassador to Athens, Thomas Miller, to protest a decision he said had "multiple negative repercussions."
Secretary of State Powell telephoned the Greek Foreign Minister Thursday to further explain the decision, while the U.S. ambassador in Skopje, Lawrence Butler, met with Macedonian President Branko Crvenkovski.
Mr. Crvenkovski described the U.S. decision a victory and a great day for Macedonia.