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Macedonia: Any New Country Name to Be Put to Referendum

FILE - Souvenirs with the flag and name of Macedonia written on them are displayed in Skopje, Macedonia, Jan. 10, 2018.

Macedonia's prime minister said Wednesday that any new name for his country that is agreed with neighboring Greece will be put to a referendum to be held later this year.

Zoran Zaev said Skopje and Athens have never been closer to reaching an agreement over Macedonia's name, which has been the subject of a decades-long dispute.

Macedonia's government has committed to modifying the republic's name to address Greek concerns that the current one implies territorial claims on the northern Greek province of the same name. In return, Athens has promised to lift its objections to Macedonia's NATO and European Union membership.

Zaev said a referendum on whatever solution is found will be held in September or October, and that both countries' parliaments will have had to ratify the deal beforehand.

The prime minister didn't specify what the new name might be, but said an "important conversation" with Greek counterpart Alexis Tsipras on the issue should take place by Friday.

Several options were in play for the Balkan country's new name, including Republic of Northern Macedonia, Republic of Upper Macedonia, and the latest Macedonian proposal Republic of Ilinden Macedonia, which Athens has rejected.

"I would not comment on certain benchmarks, adjectives or additions to the name because we are in the final phase of a possible solution for a more than 25-year-old problem," Zaev told a news conference marking one year since he took office.