Athens (AFP) - A 27-year name row between Greece and Macedonia cannot be resolved without consitutional revision in the neighbouring country, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said Saturday amid hopes for a June deal.
Two days after a closely watched meeting with his Macedonia counterpart Zoran Zaev, Tsipras said a constitutional revision to eliminate "all forms of irredentism" was a "necessary precondition."
"As regards the debate surrounding (Macedonia's) name, the government will not enter more specific talks if the above requirements are not fulfilled first," Tsipras' office said in a statement.
In a speech to his party later Saturday, Tsipras said the countries were "closer than ever before" to a solution.
"We must not lose this historic opportunity. Let's not make clumsy steps in the final metres to the finish line," he said.
The name dispute between the two countries dates back to 1991, when Skopje declared independence from war-torn Yugoslavia.
Athens objects to the neighbouring state's constitutional name, Republic of Macedonia, because Greece has its own northern province called Macedonia, and fears it may imply territorial ambitions.
Greece wants the change of name to be backed with a constitutional change and for it to be applied on the "erga omnes" ("towards all") legal principle, meaning universal use inside and outside Macedonia.
But even with the support of the ethnic Albanian minority parties, Zaev's government does not have a majority to pass a constitutional change in parliament.
In an apparent attempt to break the impasse, Zaev on Thursday suggested to Tsipras a new name proposal -- Republic of Ilinden Macedonia.
"The prime minister and Zoran Zaev are discussing the name 'Ilinden Macedonia'," main opposition leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis said Friday, after a briefing from Tsipras.
"We were discussing many options and we agreed on one that is acceptable for both sides," Zaev said on Thursday, without giving further detail.
Reference to Ilinden, a 1903 uprising against the Ottoman Empire and a key event for Macedonia's national identity, is apparently aimed at securing support from Zaev's nationalist opponents in parliament towards a possible deal.
Later in the day, however, the Greek PM's office said the chosen name had to have a "geographical or chronological qualifier," apparently disqualifying the latest proposal.
Such names already put forward and in discussion include 'New Macedonia' and 'Upper Macedonia'.
Athens has said it will only compromise on a name as part of an overall deal covering related issues, such as the official name of the landlocked Balkan country's language.
"In these negotiations, you either agree on everything or on nothing," Tsipras said this week, leaving open the possibility of a new meeting with Zaev in early June.
He noted that the next milestone is a meeting of European foreign ministers on June 25, where Macedonia hopes to receive a possible date to begin EU accession talks.