NEWS

Mutual arms cuts

The effort by Greece and Turkey to carry out mutual cuts in defense spending received a boost yesterday when Turkish Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul told his Greek counterpart, Spilios Spiliotopoulos, that Ankara had decided to slash $10 billion from its defense spending, chiefly through the scrapping of three arms programs. After their meeting in Brussels, Spiliotopoulos told reporters that Greece’s review of its mid-term armaments procurement program will be completed in July and that its target is to reduce spending by 25 percent over the next five years. The Agence France-Presse, in a dispatch from Athens, quoted an «informed source» as saying that Greece had decided to cancel the procurement of a corvette and 300 armored vehicles worth a total of 2 billion ($2.4 billion) euros. The two ministers met on the sidelines of a meeting of EU defense ministers. Gonul informed Spiliotopoulos officially that on Friday Ankara had announced that it was calling off three long-running tenders for tanks, helicopters and unmanned aircraft. Greece and Turkey are regional rivals and have spent hundreds of billions of dollars in an arms race over the past few decades. The two countries nearly went to war over Cyprus in 1974, over disputed Aegean waters in 1987 and over the Imia Islets in 1996. But since 1999, the two have begun to improve relations, signing 25 low-level agreements and promising each other that they will reduce defense spending. Mutual cuts in defense spending with Turkey featured prominently in the Greek election campaign earlier this year, with both New Democracy (which won) and PASOK (which fell from power) saying they would work toward this. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, renewed their pledge to keep improving ties during Erdogan’s visit to Greece earlier this month. Spiliotopoulos told reporters that the New Democracy government would keep its promise to cut defense spending and not waste «a single euro» of taxpayers’ money. This is to be done through a reduction of procurement costs and by focusing on the absolute needs of the military general staff. Spiliotopoulos declared that the local defense industry will be given as much work as possible.