ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey and Greece yesterday signed an agreement on the sale of Azeri natural gas in a project which will eventually channel it to the rest of Europe. Greece, which relies heavily on gas imports from Russia, is hoping to become an energy hub for southern Europe and plans to import gas from the Caspian Sea to send on to Europe, including to Italy, from 2006. «With this agreement, the Turkish energy market is opening up to European Union energy markets and this is happening via Greece,» Greek Development Minister Akis Tsochadzopoulos told reporters. Turkey’s Energy Minister Hilmi Guler said a tender would be held in 2004 to build the planned pipeline. He said it would initially pump 750 million cubic meters (mcm) of natural gas to Greece. [Guler and Tsochadzopoulos met with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to brief him on the accord. Tsochadzopoulos said they also discussed issues of economic cooperation between the two countries, the Athens News Agency reported.] The total capacity of the pipeline would eventually rise to 11 billion cubic meters (bcm), of which 3 bcm would go to Greece and the rest to Western Europe via Italy. The pipeline will be 285 kilometers (177 miles) in length, 209 km of that in Turkey including 17 km beneath the Marmara Sea south of Istanbul, Guler said. The Turkish section of the pipeline would cost about 80 million dollars and the Greek part 115 million euros. The two countries signed a memorandum of understanding on the pipeline last year. In February this year, they signed an intergovernmental agreement. Yesterday’s signing sealed the commercial side of the deal between Botas, Turkey’s state natural gas company, and its Greek counterpart Public Gas Corporation (DEPA). The natural gas will be piped from Azerbaijan’s Shakh Deniz field, whose reserves total 625 bcm as well as 101 million tons of gas condensate.