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Turkey, Greece Sign Pipeline Deal - 2002-03-28

Turkey and Greece have signed an agreement Thursday to build a natural gas pipeline that will link the traditionally hostile neighbors.

Turkey's energy minister, Zeki Cakan, and the Greek development minister, Akis Tsohatzopoulos, signed the $300 million agreement to build a natural gas pipeline that is to link the two countries.

Under the deal, Turkey is to export up to two billion cubic meters of natural gas to Greece every year.

Turkish Energy Minister Cakan said the gas will come from Central Asian nations and other sources and will eventually be exported to other Balkan countries, including Bulgaria and Romania - once the proposed pipeline connecting Turkey to Greece is built and extended.

Turkey now imports gas from Russia and Iran through an existing pipeline network. Officials confirm that initial deliveries to Greece will come from those two countries.

The agreement, termed a huge step forward by the Turkish energy minister, is a sign of steadily improving ties between the two traditionally hostile neighbors. The thaw was triggered by a series of deadly earthquakes, which shook the two countries in 1999. Greeks and Turks rushed to help each other, generating a spirit of cooperation and friendship that officials from both nations have been building on.

The two countries remain at odds, however, over the future of the divided island of Cyprus and territorial rights over the Aegean Sea.

Turkish and Greek officials say they share hopes that an increase in trade and joint investments such as the gas pipeline project will help bring their two nations lasting peace. The project will also help Turkey fulfill its strategic ambition of becoming what Turkish officials call an "energy bridge" between East and West.