File Photo: Macedonian Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov (Reuters)
Macedonia expects to get approval to start NATO membership talks this week, its foreign minister said on Monday.
NATO starts a summit in Brussels on Wednesday and while most of the focus is on US President Donald Trump's criticism of the alliance, Macedonia's membership is also on agenda.
"We have high hopes and I think everything is in the pipeline and it should happen this week," Nikola Dimitrov told Reuters on the sidelines of a Western Balkans summit in London. "We should be ready to start accession talks."
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said last month that the Atlantic alliance was likely to approve membership talks at this week's summit.
Stoltenberg said a recent agreement with Greece to change the country's name to Republic of North Macedonia and end a decades-old dispute was "an historic agreement which provides an historic opportunity" for Skopje to join NATO.
The name change has yet to be finalised, however, and is still subject to resistance in both countries.
"The finalisation of our part of the (name) deal will be built into the NATO process," Dimitrov said.
Asked whether there were any concerns that Russia could try to disrupt the NATO membership process due to its own worries about the alliance encroaching on its traditional sphere of influence, Dimitrov said: "But for the name issue, we would have been a (NATO) member since 2008.
"So we firmly believe it is not against any other country and it will have a very calming important influence on the stability of the region. But of course until that happens we will be concerned about any obstacle that may appear."