Pipeline provides a link

One historic moment gave birth to another yesterday as Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis appeared to accept an invitation to become the first Greek premier to visit Turkey in over 45 years, after his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan extended the invite during an event on the border between the two countries inaugurating works on a natural gas pipeline. The event began in the region of Evros in northeastern Greece, near the border with Turkey, before the two leaders crossed a bridge over Evros River marking the natural frontier between the two countries to continue proceedings. The leaders were introducing the works on a 285-kilometer pipeline that will be the key link supplying Caspian natural gas to Western Europe. The pipeline will begin in Karacabey in the Sea of Marmara and run to Komotini in Thrace, initially supplying 3.5 billion cubic meters of gas annually, and may later be upgraded up to 11 billion. The project is due for completion by the beginning of 2007. Both leaders said more than just energy matters were at stake. «The start of work on the Greek-Turkish pipeline can contribute to the strengthening of peace and stability, to the further development of economic and trade relations, to the improvement and widening of co-operation between the two countries,» said Karamanlis. Erdogan, who referred to the Greek prime minister as «my friend,» indicated that he also felt the pipeline was part of something bigger. «This is a historic moment,» he said. «I believe it is one of the steps that will help the further development and deepening of our relations. It will also help erase the rumors that circulate, sometimes, about relations between our two countries.» The total cost of the pipeline is estimated at 250 million euros, of which almost 120 million will be paid by Greece. The European Union will subsidize 29 percent of the project, which has already begun on the Greek side. Greece also signed an agreement with Italy two weeks ago to build a 600-km pipeline from Komotini to the Ionian Sea coast in Epirus, and a further 220-km underwater extension to Italy, costing almost 1 billion euros in total. Karamanlis said putting Greece at the center of a European energy hub was vital for the country’s future. «For a year and a half now, international oil prices have been going through the roof,» he said. «This development proves more than ever that natural gas is a strong alternative with significant economic and environmental advantages.» The inauguration of the pipeline came at a time when relations between the two countries have been fairly strained. Athens has been concerned about what course Ankara will follow after the ‘no’ votes in the Dutch and French referendums on the EU constitution. Relations worsened considerably in April when a standoff between Greek and Turkish coast guards near the Imia islets in the eastern Aegean threatened to derail a visit by Foreign Minister Petros Molyviatis to Ankara, during which confidence-boosting measures aimed at reducing military tension in the Aegean, were announced. However, Karamanlis yesterday accepted an invitation from Erdogan to visit Turkey. Although no date was set for the trip, if it takes place it will be the first official visit by a Greek leader to Turkey since 1959.

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