Turkish ties get a boost

Greece and Turkey yesterday announced a series of confidence-building measures aimed at reducing military tension, including the formation of a joint peacekeeping force and emergency response units. «Today we have taken another step to bolster the climate of confidence in relations between us,» said Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis after meeting with Turkish counterpart Ali Babacan, who yesterday began an official three-day visit to Greece. «We agreed on adopting a new package of confidence-building measures,» Bakoyannis said. Athens and Ankara agreed to set up a joint unit to participate in NATO peacekeeping operations, a ground unit to assist the alliance’s rapid response forces, and a third non-NATO group for disaster and relief efforts, she said. The NATO allies announced a total of five new confidence-building measures, including visit exchanges by the Greek and Turkish chiefs of staff and by military commanders on the Greek-Turkish border. An official visit to Turkey by Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis – one originally scheduled for 2005 that would be the first of its kind in nearly 50 years – is expected to take place «very soon,» according to Bakoyannis. Greece and Turkey inaugurated a pipeline in November that will convey natural gas from the Caspian Sea to Europe, easing the continent’s dependence on Russian energy supplies. Babacan said good-neighborly relations between the two nations need to be further developed. Greece is among the strongest supporters of Turkey’s drive to join the 27-nation European Union and has said its neighbor should become a full member if it meets all EU criteria. Babacan said it would be a mistake not to admit mainly Muslim Turkey by delineating the EU on the basis of geographic borders. «The EU is based on a set of values and the members share common ideals and values,» he said. «Limiting the enlargement would be a major mistake. It would be a wrong starting point.»