Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reiterated Wednesday that the United States supports full NATO membership for Macedonia as soon as possible. Greece last month blocked Macedonia's entry into the alliance because of the dispute over Macedonia's name. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

U.S. officials were deeply disappointed that Greece and Macedonia failed to resolve the name issue before last month's NATO summit in Bucharest, prompting the Greek veto of Macedonia's membership bid.

In a joint appearance here with Macedonian Foreign Minister Antonio Milososki, Rice urged both countries to re-double their efforts in negotiations mediated by United Nations envoy Matthew Nimitz so that Macedonia can join the alliance very, very soon.

U.S. support for Macedonian NATO membership was also reaffirmed in a joint declaration of strategic partnership and cooperation signed by Rice and her Macedonian counterpart at a State Department ceremony.

Among other things the document calls for broader cooperation in trade, security and people-to-people ties.

At the ceremony, Rice voiced strong support for Macedonia joining NATO as soon as the name issue is settled, saying it deserves membership because of its contribution of troops to the U.S.-led coalitions in Iraq and Afghanistan:

"Macedonia is a good friend of the United States. Greece is a good friend of the United States. And it is our great hope that with enough will, and with enough effort and enough flexibility that this issue can be resolved," she said. "Because during the NATO meetings in Bucharest, it was very clear that the members of NATO want Macedonia to be invited into NATO, and that we hope to have that happen as soon as possible."

Foreign Minister Milososki, for his part, said the Skopje government, through its reforms and record of support for NATO, has proven its readiness for membership:

"Our soldiers are serving side-by-side, shoulder-to-shoulder, with American and other soldiers in NATO missions in the world," he said. "And Macedonia has proven that as a peaceful nation in southeastern Europe, it could really contribute to the peace, stability and economic development in our region."

After its independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, Macedonia became a U.N. member under the provisional name of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia or FYROM.

That was at the insistence of Greece, which contends the name Macedonia implies a territorial claim on its northern province of the same name.

The United States in 2004 announced it would henceforth refer to the Skopje government as the Republic of Macedonia, the name it prefers.

Negotiations with Greece on the name issue have been underway on-and-off since 1994. Ambassador Nimitz, a veteran U.S. diplomat, became the United Nations' special mediator four years ago.