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Greek foreign minister resigns over Macedonia deal dispute

In this Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2018, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias arrives at a cabinet meeting at the Greek Parliament in Athens. Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias has resigned, on Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018, following a disagreement with the defense minister over the handling of a recent deal which would change Macedonia's name in exchange for Greece dropping its objections to the country joining NATO. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece’s foreign minister resigned Wednesday following a disagreement with the defense minister over the handling of a deal for Greece to drop its objections to neighboring Macedonia joining NATO if the small country’s name is changed.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras accepted Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias’ resignation announced he would take over the helm of the Foreign Ministry himself “to help with all his powers in the successful completion” of the name change deal, his office said.

Kotzias quit his post a day after a Cabinet meeting during which he reportedly had a heated argument with Defense Minister Panos Kammenos over the Macedonia deal and felt he didn’t receive sufficient support from colleagues or the prime minister.

“The PM and a series of ministers made their choices in yesterday’s (cabinet) meeting, and then I made mine,” Kotzias wrote on Twitter.

Speaking to reporters later, Tsipras warned he would not tolerate disagreements within his government on the deal with Macedonia, which settled a decades-long dispute and which Tsipras negotiated with his Macedonian counterpart.

“(I will) not put up with any double talk from anybody or with any personal strategies,” Tsipras said.

Kammenos, who heads the governing coalition’s junior party, opposes the agreement reached in June and has threatened to leave the coalition if the pact comes to parliament for ratification.

Kotzias was angered by statements the defense minister made during a recent trip to the United States that raised the possibility of an alternative to the name deal, countering current Greek government and U.S. policies.

Under the agreement that remains several steps from completion, the country would change its name to North Macedonia in return for the chance to join NATO and the European Union.

The name deal has also met with opposition in Macedonia, where lawmakers were debating whether to start discussions on constitutional amendments required for agreement’s enactment.

The amendments need a two-thirds vote in parliament for approval and currently are several lawmakers short of passage. They could be put to a vote as soon as Friday.

The conservative opposition VMRO-DPMNE party said Wednesday its lawmakers would not participate in a “sterile” debate and intended to vote against the constitutional changes when the time came.

VMRO-DPMNE leader Hristijan Mickoski explained the party’s opposition in a reply to a U.S. assistant secretary of state who wrote him Tuesday to “set aside partisan interests” and work to get the name change approved.

“I hope that the Republic of Macedonia will be very soon a part of the NATO and EU families, but proud and dignified, not humiliated, disfigured and disgraced,” Mickoski wrote.

After his top diplomat’s resignation, Tsipras said Greece would “never” allow Macedonia to join the EU or NATO under its current name. Macedonia should complete the constitutional amendment process “because (it will be offered) no other opportunity,” he said.

Since Macedonia declared independence from the former Yugoslavia in 1991, Greece has blocked the young republic’s path to NATO membership over objections to its use of the term Macedonia, arguing it implied a territorial claim on Greece’s own northern Macedonia province.

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Konstantin Testorides in Skopje, Macedonia contributed.

Copyright © 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.



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