Reuters, July 10, 2008
Macedonia left out as NATO signs Balkans pacts
BRUSSELS, July 9 (Reuters) - NATO signed accession protocols for Croatia and Albania on Wednesday but their Balkan neighbour Macedonia was left out.
The signing ceremony -- largely a formality since NATO leaders issued invitations to Albania and Croatia three months ago -- means the two countries can now take part in most formal NATO meetings, including ministerial events.
Both Albania and Croatia have already sent troops to NATO peacekeeping operations, as has Macedonia.
But Greece has blocked Macedonia's accession goal in a long-running dispute over its name, which is the same as that of the northern province of Greece.
Analysts say the ex-Yugoslav republic could be destabilised and nationalist feeling bolstered in the region if it is left out of the alliance for too long.
NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer insisted the door remained opened for Macedonia once the name dispute was resolved, but acknowledged it was slipping behind.
"That moment is unfortunately over," de Hoop Scheffer said of his earlier hopes that the alliance could have signed accession protocols for all three at the same time.
"There is a new government now in Skopje and let us hope we will see flexibility," he said of efforts to resolve the 18-year deadlock over Macedonia's name.
Macedonia's Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski agreed with the country's main ethnic Albanian party last week to form a coalition government whose main goal is to get the country's NATO and European Union bids back on track.
Wednesday's signing puts Albania and Croatia on course to enter the Western alliance at a summit next April, assuming that the texts are ratified on time by the national parliaments of the 26 existing NATO nations