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Turkey's Erdogan in Athens on 'historic visit'

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-05-14

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan is leading a Turkish delegation on what he called a 'historic visit' to Greece. The arch-foes are to sign a score of agreements on issues ranging from immigration and military spending, to tourism and energy.

REUTERS - Long-time rivals Greece and Turkey discussed easing tensions and cutting heavy defence budgets on Friday, seeking to distil some virtue from a Greek debt crisis shaking the euro.

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan arrived in Athens with 10 ministers and about 80 businessmen for what both sides hope will be a new era in ties between two NATO members who have come to the brink of war on several occasions in the last 50 years.

Erdogan, the first Turkish prime minister to make an official visit to Greece since 2004, told Greek state NET TV on Thursday that issues he would discuss with Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou included cuts in armaments.

“Both countries have huge defence expenses and they will achieve a lot of a savings in this way,” he said.

“I believe this visit will be the start for putting Greek-Turkish relations on a better foundation,” Erdogan said later during a meeting with Greek President Karolos Papoulias.

The two sides are to sign 21 bilateral agreements on issues ranging from tourism, energy and environment, to curbing illegal migrants coming through Turkey, a major problem for Greece.

Businessmen from both sides would also be holding a conference, Erdogan said.

“This is why we believe that this visit is extremely important,” he said. “I believe it is an historic visit.”


Greece’s debt crisis has given extra impetus to efforts to improve ties with its traditional rival. Both Ankara and Athens have said they want to demilitarise the Aegean as a way of cutting defence spending.

“We would like to have peaceful relations, based on international law and the mutual respect of rights and territorial intergrity,” Papandreou told CNN Turk.

Athens, which backs Ankara’s European Union accession provided it meets its obligations, has made clear an improvement in relations will hinge on Turkey showing good will in the Aegean and in efforts to reunite the divided island of Cyprus.

“We want to proceed to arms reduction under a basic political condition—that Turkey undertakes specific action and practices in relation to respecting international law on Aegean and east Mediterranean issues,” Deputy Defence Minister Panos Beglitis told Greek radio.

Greece spends a higher proportion of gross domestic product on its military than any other EU member. Western officials, who have put together a 110 billion euro ($140 billion) rescue package for Athens, advocate cuts in Greece’s armed forces as a way of reducing spending.

In recent years Greek defence spending reached a high of 5.6 percent of GDP, about 13.4 billion euros. The target for this year is to cut it to below 3 percent of GDP.

According to the International Strategic Studies group Turkey spent $10.2 billion on defence in 2008 and $9.9 billion in 2009, but its economy is forecast to grow faster than any in the EU this year, so Ankara has less need to make cuts.

Erdogan and Papandreou will chair a joint cabinet meeting with seven Greek ministers on issues including foreign affairs, transport and infrastructure, tourism and culture, education, police and emergency services, energy and the environment.

Greece and Turkey were nearly drawn into conflict as recently as 1996 over an uninhabited Aegean islet. The two have also skirmished over Turkey’s occupation of northern Cyprus and territorial rights in the Aegean.

But ties have improved since 1999, when earthquakes in both countries led to spontaneous deliveries of aid and prompted their leaders to improve relations and sign accords.

Date created : 2010-05-14