Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis and his Australian counterpart John Howard yesterday signed a deal granting tens of thousands of Greek Australians who have returned to Greece access to medical benefits and an Australian pension. «I believe we will resolve an issue which has been pending for decades,» Karamanlis said in Canberra, adding that «at least 60,000 ethnic Greeks will benefit directly.» Karamanlis and Howard also discussed bilateral trade and education links and reaffirmed the strong relationship between their nations, forged during World War II. Howard stressed «the very deep ties that exist between Australia and Greece.» Karamanlis sought Howard’s support for Athens’s ongoing efforts to secure the return to Greece of the Parthenon Marbles, currently in the British Museum. Howard said he had discussed the issue many times with British Prime Minister Tony Blair but stopped short of explicitly expressing support for Greece’s efforts. «Ultimately it is a bilateral matter between Greece and the United Kingdom,» he said. Karamanlis subsequently told reporters, «It’s a matter of reunification of a very important monument of global dimension.» «We will not spare any effort to communicate with all our friends in government, but also to the people, to reach a satisfactory solution,» he said. Earlier this week, Morris Iemma, the premier of New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state, backed Greece’s efforts to retrieve the Marbles. Karamanlis and Howard also discussed international issues, including Turkey’s bid to join the European Union and Greece’s dispute with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) regarding the latter’s official name. Karamanlis expressed his gratitude for Australia’s support on «priority issues for Greek foreign policy,» including the problem with FYROM. It was unclear what comments Australian officials had made on the issue. Meanwhile in Athens, Karamanlis’s office revealed that the Greek premier would be traveling to Istanbul on June 25 to attend a Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC) summit. «Nothing else has been planned,» a government aide said when asked whether Karamanlis would have talks with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan during his visit. However a source yesterday told Kathimerini that Karamanlis had telephoned Erdogan recently and discussed a range of issues. According to the source, Karamanlis expressed Athens’s desire to cooperate to ensure stability in the broader region and also reiterated Greece’s support for Ankara’s bid to join the EU. Greece’s PM also reportedly expressed his conviction that the current pre-electoral period in Turkey would not influence Greek-Turkish relations.