Greek-Turkish inauguration of pipeline

Greece and Turkey yesterday inaugurated a new pipeline transporting natural gas from the Caspian Sea region to the rest of Europe in a move expected to help diversify energy supplies and improve ties between the two rivals. Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan shook hands at a symbolic meeting on a bridge over the River Evros, which separates the two countries. «We are forming a bridge as an energy transit country,» Erdogan said. The 300-km pipeline will provide the European Union with its first supply of gas from the Caspian region, bypassing Russia and the volatile Middle East. It will link the Greek and Turkish networks, and eventually carry gas from Azerbaijan to Italy. The project is expected to help boost Greece’s position on the European energy map and act as a deterrent for any future crisis with Turkey. «It is a great step forward for relations between the two countries and for stability in the region. By cooperating we can build a better future for all,» Karamanlis said. In further signs of a step forward in ties between the two nations, Karamanlis’s office said yesterday he will make an official visit to Turkey early next year, a trip originally slated for 2005. The EU is backing the Greek-Turkish project as it seeks to diversify its energy suppliers and reduce its natural gas dependence on Russia, from where it buys about a quarter of its gas. The United States also welcomed the project, describing it as a «critical new energy bridge» between East and West but said the European Union ought to open its energy market to more Central Asian states. «The first link between Azerbaijan and gas suppliers in Central Asia to European consumers… builds a critical new energy bridge between the East and the West,» US Energy Secretary Samuel W. Bodman told a ceremony at Ipsala, near the Greek-Turkish border on the Evros River. But Bodman added, «New partners including Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan need to be brought into negotiations, and the EU will need, in my judgment, to open up its gas markets.»