Agence France-Press & Tehran Times – 2010-05-16 23:22:51
ATHENS (AFP) â€” Improving relations between Greece and Turkey could lead to arms reduction in both countries, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in an interview published Saturday as he wrapped up an Athens visit.
“The development of relations between Greece and Turkey will boost the climate of trust and stability (and) ultimately the natural consequence could be arms reduction,” Erdogan told Greek newspaper Ta Nea.
Calls to reduce arms in both countries were left unanswered on Friday when Erdogan met his Greek counterpart George Papandreou during his first official visit to the Greek capital since 2004.
On top marking an important improvement in relations, reciprocal commitments to reduce arms would be particularly welcome in Greece, which is among the biggest defense spenders in Europe and is struggling to control a debt crisis.
Greece currently spends around 2.8 percent of its national output on defense — proportionately more than France or Britain — or six billion euros this year, mostly due to its standoff with Turkey.
Regional rivals for centuries despite being members of NATO for the past five decades, Greece and Turkey came to the brink of war as recently as 1996 and are still mired in dispute over the ethnically divided island of Cyprus.
With Greece forced to go to the EU and IMF for a multi-billion-dollar bailout package that has entailed harsh austerity measures, military spending has also come under review.
Officials have said they hope to cut some 700 million euros of arms spending this year, but have indicated larger cutbacks depend on reciprocal measures by Turkey.
Turkey, which has NATO’s second largest standing army, is also burdened with a hefty military bill, fighting an armed Kurdish insurgency in its southeast since 1984.
The Greek and Turkish governments hailed a “”big step forward”” in their relations on Friday, the first day in Erdogan’s stay in Athens, which he said marked “”a historic moment””.
The two governments agreed to set up a council to hold regular meetings between the two countries’ leaders and their cabinet ministers, and inked pacts on the economy, immigration, energy and other issues.
The two countries also signed a number of deals, including an accord allowing illegal migrants coming from Turkey to Greece to be sent back, an issue that has been a major source of discord between the arch-rivals.
They also signed a memorandum on the ITGI pipeline bringing Azeri gas to Italy via Turkey and Greece in which the two sides said they would redouble their efforts to complete the project.
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