Senior diplomats and energy officials from the troubled Caucasus and Black Sea regions gathered in Komotini, northeastern Greece yesterday, to forge closer cooperation with Greece and Turkey spurred by recent oil pipeline and energy deals. A declaration to be signed today is aimed at expanding energy and trade ties among 12 countries that have often viewed their neighbors with hostility. «When markets cooperate more closely, and companies form joint ventures, there is pressure on politicians to cooperate too,» Evripidis Stylianidis, Greece’s deputy minister for overseas trade, told The Associated Press. The meeting follows an April 12 agreement between Greece, Bulgaria and Russia to build a 285-kilometer (177-mile) Balkan pipeline, the latest major venture planned to speed up the transfer of oil and natural gas from the former Soviet Union to western markets. Worth more than 500 million euros, the pipeline will bypass Turkey’s busy Bosporus strait, linking Bulgaria’s port of Burgas to Greece’s Alexandroupolis. «Pipeline development is positive,» Stylianidis said. «It’s good for the West, which will get cheaper oil, and good for the region because better relationships grow between the countries on pipeline routes.» The new pipelines are part of an effort to reduce Western dependence on Middle East oil. In June, the major Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline is set to begin operating, carrying Caspian Sea oil 1,760 kilometers (1,100 miles) through Georgia to the Turkish Mediterranean port. Bulgaria is also planning a separate Caspian oil pipeline with neighbors Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Albania, to reach the Adriatic port of Vlora. «Bypass routes are an insurance policy against the risks involved in the Bosporus,» Valentin Tserovski, Bulgaria’s minister of regional development, said ahead of yesterday’s meetings. «This way we will also overcome delays which cause huge loses to oil and shipping companies,» he explained. Greece and longtime rival Turkey are planning to build a pipeline to carry natural gas from Iran. And in Athens last December, the EU promised to link up power grids to form an «energy community» with 10 southeast European countries. Greece is currently chairing the Organization of Black Sea Economic Cooperation, a regional trade forum founded in 1992, which includes Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Georgia, Moldova, Serbia-Montenegro, Romania, Russia, Turkey and Ukraine. Half those countries have been involved in wars or conflicts since 1990. More recently, popular revolts led to pro-Western governments coming to power in Georgia and Ukraine. Stylianidis said Russian distrust of ventures like the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline – potentially competing with its own oil transit network – had eased. Black Sea and Caucasus countries «are coming closer to the West,» he said. «Russia was suspicious of this trend, but we have won their trust. And they too have realized they must become strategic partners of the European Union.» Today’s declaration, to be signed in Komotini, will also call for expanded regional cooperation in tourism, transportation and fighting organized crime and illegal trafficking.