PREVIEW-Greece’s woes a chance to bury Turk-Greek rivalry?

* Erdogan, Papandreou to discuss easing Aegean tension

* Turkey has experience in dealing with financial crisis

By Ibon Villelabeitia and Dina Kyriakidou

ANKARA/ATHENS, May 13 (BestGrowthStock) – Greece’s debt crisis may
lead to improved ties with its old rival Turkey as the prime
ministers of the two countries meet to discuss issues from cuts
in defence spending, to financial crisis management.

Turkey’s Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan visits Athens on
Friday for talks with his Greek counterpart George Papandreou in
what Turkish and Greek officials hope will bring a new era in
relations between the often feuding Aegean neighbours.

With debt-choked Greece undergoing austerity measures, both
Ankara and Athens have said they want to achieve the goal of
demilitarising the Aegean as a way of cutting defence spending.

“Neither the people of Greece or Turkey need new submarines
or fighter jets,” Turkey’s EU Affairs Minister Egemen Bagis
said, noting the contradiction of two NATO members spending
billions on defence to counter potential threat from each other.

Greece, which spends more of its gross domestic product on
the military than any other European Union country, has said it
also wants to reduce regional tensions with Turkey.

“In order for our people to enjoy the benefits of arms
spending reductions, we must first erase the threats and create
the necessary trust,” said Gregory Delavekouras, Greek Foreign
Ministry spokesman.

“This meeting will deepen and widen the cooperation between
our two countries,” Delavekouras said.

Western officials and economists have advocated a reduction
of Greece’s armed forces as a way of reducing spending.

Greece’s Deputy Defence Minister Panos Beglitis said in
March that overall defence spending in recent years was as high
as 5.6 percent of GDP, about 13.4 billion euros ($17 billion).
The target for this year is to cut below 3 percent of GDP.

According to the International Strategic Studies group
Turkey spent $9.9 billion on defence in 2009 and $10.2 billion
in 2008, but with its economy forecast to grow faster than any
in the EU this year, Ankara’s need to make cuts is not as great.

MELTDOWN EXPERTISE

With wide experience of financial disasters and IMF bailout
packages, Turkey has said it is happy to share its expertise
with Greece on surviving a debt crisis a decade ago.

In the first official visit by a Turkish prime minister
since 2004, Erdogan will be accompanied by 10 ministers and 80
businessmen.

He and Papandreou will chair a joint cabinet meeting with
seven Greek ministers on issues that will include foreign,
transport and infrastructure, tourism and culture, education,
police and emergency services, energy and environment.

“We need to give a fresh momentum to Turkish-Greek relations
and to carry them to a whole new level of cooperation which will
contribute to issues that seemed problematic between the two
countries,” Turkey’s Economy Minister Ali Babacan said.

Greece and Turkey nearly came to blows in 1996 over an
uninhabited Aegean islet. The two have skirmished over Turkey’s
occupation of Cyprus and territorial rights in the Aegean.

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

EMPATHY DURING TRAGEDY

Erdogan is likely to solicit Papandreou’s help to help push
a solution for the reunification of the divided island of
Cyprus, long an obstacle to Turkey’s EU membership aspirations.

Greece says it wants to see changes in behaviour from Turkey
in areas such as overflights and air space violations.

“We openly and clearly support Turkey’s EU accession but we
want to see concrete signs that some behaviours have changed,” a
Greek Foreign Ministry official said.

Semih Sediz, a columnist for Radikal, a liberal Turkish
daily, said that despite their history, Turkey and Greece have
ironically found sympathy for each other in times of crisis.

Earthquakes, Great Depression deprivations or persecution
from military juntas have provoked Turkish-Greek empathy.

“There is a lot of empathy in Turkey for Greece right now,”
now,” Sediz said. “We know a lot about IMFs, belt-tightening,
union unrest, all those things. We’ve been down that road.”

Investment Research

(Additional reporting by Tulay Karadeniz in Ankara and Simon
Cameron-Moore in Istanbul)
(Editing by Jon Hemming)

PREVIEW-Greece’s woes a chance to bury Turk-Greek rivalry?