Macedonia is ready to accept a "fair compromise" with Greece in their long-running name row, the ex-Yugoslav republic's president said Thursday, days ahead of fresh UN-mediated talks.
However Macedonian President Branko Crvenkovski, who held talks with EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn in Brussels, admitted that he and his Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, more hardline on the matter, did not agree on the way to resolve the issue.
Macedonia is an official EU candidate nation but one of the hurdles to beginning formal membership talks is its more than 15-year-long dispute with Greece over its right to the name "Macedonia," which is shared by a northern Greek region.
Crvenkovski said that UN negotiator Matthew Nimetz, who has already held a number of meetings on the issue, had scheduled more talks with the two sides for next Tuesday.
Both Macedonia and Greece will present their latest proposals to Nimetz who will use them to come up with what Crvenkovski said he hoped would be a "final proposal" to solve the long-running dispute.
"The Republic of Macedonia is prepared for a fair compromise that will not go against our cultural and national identity and I hope that the Republic of Greece will (also) show some flexibility," he told reporters during a joint press conference with Rehn.
The president gave no indication of what kind of compromise might be acceptable.
After the collapse of Yugoslavia, Macedonia was recognised by the United Nations in 1993 under the name Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM).
According to poll released last month, only 30 percent of Macedonians would support membership of NATO, which the country also hopes to join, if that meant having to change the country's name to suit Greece.
The Macedonian president acknowledged that he was "aware of the weakness we have shown in the last couple of weeks and months," in regard to the wider objective of moving towards EU membership.
Last month a Council of Europe report detailed allegations by inmates in Macedonia's prisons of beatings by police officers and degrading conditions in the prisons.
Earlier foreign observers said the parliamentary elections held in Macedonia in June failed to meet international standards.
The European Commission has set up eight political benchmarks for Macedonia to reach before membership negotiations can start.
The benchmarks cover areas like political dialogue, implementation of police laws, the fight against corruption, judiciary and public administration reform, and measures to boost employment and business.
Rehn, while welcoming reforms in some areas such as language laws, the police and judiciary, warned that "substantial efforts are still needed."
He didn't go into many details, noting that the commission will publish a new progress report on Macedonia in November.