Athens has long accused Macedonia of appropriating the name of the northern Greek region of the same name, and has blocked its neighbor from joining both NATO and the EU.
Zoran Zaev said, however, that once in NATO, Macedonia would settle the dispute with the Greeks.
"There are two ways: either to solve the problem, or join NATO under a temporary name and continue negotiations with Greece on the issue that Greece has with our constitutional name related to our integration into the European Union. They are perfectly aware of our desire to join the European Union,” Zaev told Macedonian Radio Television (MRT).
Political analysts Sputnik has talked to were less optimistic about the chances of such a settlement being reached any time soon though.
Milenko Nedelkovski, a Skopje-based political scientist, said that that Zaev’s idea about the name change was nothing new.
“This is exactly the situation we had during the 2008 NATO summit in Bucharest when Albania, Croatia and Macedonia were supposed to join NATO together. Macedonia didn’t join then because the Greeks said “no” and so it was agreed that Macedonia would join under the provisional name of Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) and that Skopje and Athens would later work this out between them,” Milenko Nedelkovski told Sputnik Serbia.
“I think that Macedonia will keep insisting that FYROM is a temporary name, and the Greeks will be pushing to make it permanent, and this will go on forever,” he added.
Nedelkovsky said that what really matters is that Macedonia has started giving up on its national interests.
“This will be followed by similar concessions to Albania, Bulgaria or anyone else, and a few years from now Macedonia will have changed beyond recognition,” Nedelkovsky warned.
He believes, however, that indebted as it is to Germany, Greece will hardly be able to resist Washington’s pressure and will have to agree to NATO’s desire to fast-track Macedonia’s accession to the 29-nation alliance.
In Moscow, Balkan-affairs expert Alexander Safonov agreed, saying that Zaev is ready to sacrifice certain things that were deemed important by the previous government to speed up Macedonia’s accession to NATO.
“It looks like the previous Cabinet of Nikola Gruevski was more in line with the policy Russia is pursuing in the Balkans. I’m not sure that everyone in Macedonia share his desire [to join NATO] though. Gruevski’s VMRO-DPMNE party won the previous parliamentary elections, though with a slim majority over Zaev’s Social Democratic party (SDSM) and the opposition will most certainly use his words to accuse the ruling party of working against the country’s best interest,” Safonov said.
He added that didn’t rule out a repetition of the April riots when hundreds of protesters stormed Macedonia’s parliament and attacked Zoran Zaev and beat him up.
“I believe that Macedonians have more serious problems to deal with than disputing over their country’s name,” Alexander Safonov noted.
Meanwhile, Zoran Zaev still needs the support of two-thirds of the country’s MPs, consultations with the Constitutional Court and probably a nationwide referendum to change the country’s name.
Macedonia joined NATO's Partnership for Peace in 1995 and the Membership Action Plan in 1999, which is a program that offers advice, assistance and support to countries seeking to join the alliance.