ATHENS, Greece — The Greek and Turkish prime ministers on Friday stressed the importance of improving often frosty relations between their two countries, while acknowledging significant differences remain.
Greece and Turkey have historically had strained ties and are still at odds over several issues, including territorial disputes in the Aegean Sea and over the ethnically divided island of Cyprus.
All the issues were on the agenda as Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu arrived in Athens for a two-day visit.
“It is possible to discuss everything, and that is what we are doing,” he said during a speech delivered at a Greek-Turkish business forum. “Both in Ankara and in Athens, there are leaderships with vision who envisage a better future for their countries.”
Davutoglu arrived heading a large delegation of businessmen and nine Cabinet ministers, including those of foreign affairs, interior, energy, economy and customs.
Stronger business ties between the two countries, which have seen a significant increase in bilateral trade in recent years, will help improve relations, both prime ministers said.
“The economic relations between Greece and Turkey are very encouraging up to now,” Greek premier Antonis Samaras said. “But I believe they are just indicative of the much larger margins that exist in the future.”
Bilateral trade has nearly doubled, growing from 2.2 billion euros in 2010 to 4.3 billion in 2013, while Turkey has become the largest market for Greek products over the past two years.
The two countries are also cooperating in energy, including the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline that would transfer natural gas from the Caspian to Italy, passing through Greece.
“It is very important that we make the maximum use of joint and major projects like the TAP pipeline, and the creation of the southern energy corridor that will start a new chapter in relations between our two counties,” said Greek Foreign Minister Evangelos Venizelos.
However, major differences remain between the NATO allies who have reached the brink of war three times since in the last four decades.
“Of course there are issues that we disagree on, we have differences. On the issue of the Aegean, we will continue our bilateral exploratory talks,” Davutoglu said.
“We do not want tension in the Aegean or in the eastern Mediterranean. We want, when there are differences and different approaches, to be able to talk and seek solutions.”
Davutoglu’s visit comes at a time of increased tension over oil and gas exploration rights off Cyprus, divided since 1974 into a Turkish-occupied north and a Greek Cypriot south.
Cyprus is looking to tap energy reserves to help recover from a financial crisis. It touts itself as a new energy source for a Europe trying to lessen its dependence on Russian imports.
But Turkey opposes the gas search, insisting the Greek Cypriot government cannot unilaterally exploit the island’s resources.
“On the Cyprus issue, I appeal to you, come and let’s solve this problem, to jointly utilize the energy wealth and to connect the potential sources of natural gas with Greece via Turkey,” Davutoglu said. “Peace has never harmed any country.”
ELENA BECATOROS, Associated Press
Suzan Fraser in Ankara and Derek Gatopoulos in Athens contributed.
Follow Becatoros on Twitter on https://twitter.com/ElenaBec
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