Samaras and Erdogan agree to start ‘building trust’

In what Prime Minister Antonis Samaras described as “a good day for Greek-Turkish relations,” he and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan rounded off a meeting in Istanbul on Monday by signing 25 bilateral pacts and agreeing to build trust in a bid to tackle bilateral disputes including a longstanding disagreement regarding territorial waters in the Aegean and the continental shelf.

Addressing a joint press conference after a meeting of the High-Level Cooperation Council involving more than 20 ministers from each country, Samaras declared, “Today is a good day for Greek-Turkish relations,” adding that the two countries’ relationship was not “fully aligned” and “careful steps” had to be taken to build trust.

Erdogan struck a similar note. “We believe the constructive atmosphere between our countries, the mutual understanding and good-neighborliness will strengthen our ties further,” he said. The Turkish prime minister added, however, that “there are still issues we do not agree on and our disagreements may be significant, but we are trying to forge relations of mutual respect.”

Sources from both sides said the talks between the two men were “very positive.”

The premiers co-signed 25 bilateral agreements on issues ranging from trade to tourism to natural disaster relief. Erdogan said the goal was to double last year’s 6.5 billion euros in bilateral trade this year. He said Ankara wanted to contribute to Greece’s economic recovery, declaring that “Greece’s problems are our problems.”

Speaking to reporters later, Samaras said his aim was to “fight hard to rebuild the economy.”

The issue of oil and gas exploration in the Aegean was high on the agenda and both leaders made brief references to it after Athens and Ankara recently sent diplomatic notes to the United Nations to complain about the other side’s stance on the issue. Samaras expressed his administration’s intention to set up an exclusive economic zone (EEZ), with full respect for the Law of the Sea. Erdogan responded cautiously, noting that the two men “discussed how we can make joint moves and shared opinions about win-win steps in the eastern Mediterranean.”

The two leaders debated other thorny issues including Cyprus, whose northern section has been under Turkish occupation since an invasion in 1974. “We want to bury the Cyprus problem,” Erdogan said.

On the issue of a state mosque in Athens, which Ankara recently offered to sponsor, Samaras said that a Greek state project for an official state-backed place of worship for Muslims in the Greek capital was in the works.

On the matter of the appointment of muftis for the Muslim minority in Thrace, northern Greece, Samaras said Athens had prepared a solution that would safeguard the rights of minority Muslims.

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