Greek, Turkish PMs meet, discuss defence cuts

* Papandreou, Erdogan meet to relaunch cooperation

* Aim to ease Aegean tensions, cut defence spending

* Business cooperation, bilateral projects on table

By Michele Kambas and Dina Kyriakidou

ATHENS, May 14 (BestGrowthStock) – The prime ministers of longtime
rivals Greece and Turkey met on Friday to ease tensions and
discuss cuts in defence spending, a crucial step for Athens as
it struggles with a debt crisis that is shaking the euro.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan arrived in Athens with 10
ministers and about 80 businessmen to begin what both sides hope
will be a new era in ties between the two NATO members.

Erdogan, the first Turkish premier to make an official visit
to Greece since 2004, told Greek state NET TV on Thursday that
issues he would discuss with Greek Prime Minister George
Papandreou included cuts in armaments.

“I believe we will discuss those things with my good friend
and counterpart,” he said. “Both countries have huge defence
expenses and they will achieve a lot of a savings in this way.”

Greece’s debt crisis has given extra impetus to efforts to
improve ties with its traditional rival. Both Ankara and Athens
have said they want to demilitarise the Aegean as a way of
cutting defence spending.

Athens, which backs Ankara’s European Union accession
provided it meets its obligations, has made clear an improvement
in relations will hinge on Turkey showing good will in the
Aegean and in efforts to reunite the divided island of Cyprus.

“We want to proceed to arms reduction under a basic
political condition — that Turkey undertakes specific action
and practices in relation to respecting international law on
Aegean and east Mediterranean issues,” Deputy Defence Minister
Panos Beglitis told Greek radio.
Greece spends a higher proportion of gross domestic product
on the military than any other EU member. Western officials, who
have put together a 110 billion euro rescue package for Athens,
advocate cuts in Greece’s armed forces as a way of reducing

In recent years Greek defence spending reached a high of 5.6
percent of GDP, about 13.4 billion euros ($17 billion). The
target for this year is to cut it to below 3 percent of GDP.

According to the International Strategic Studies group
Turkey spent $10.2 billion on defence in 2008 and $9.9 billion
in 2009, but its economy is forecast to grow faster than any in
the EU this year, so Ankara has less need to make cuts.

Erdogan and Papandreou will chair a joint cabinet meeting
with seven Greek ministers on issues including foreign affairs,
transport and infrastructure, tourism and culture, education,
police and emergency services, energy and the environment.

Greece and Turkey were nearly drawn into conflict in 1996
over an uninhabited Aegean islet. The two have skirmished over
Turkey’s occupation of northern Cyprus and territorial rights in
the Aegean.

But ties have improved since 1999, when earthquakes in both
countries led to spontaneous deliveries of aid and prompted
their leaders to improve relations and sign accords.

(Writing by Dina Kyriakidou; editing by Tim Pearce)

Greek, Turkish PMs meet, discuss defence cuts