Reported as Turks, Greeks to share foxhole:
Regional rivals Turkey and Greece have agreed to expand military cooperation as part of new confidence-building measures, including the establishment of a joint military unit for NATO missions for the first time in their history, the foreign ministers of the two countries announced in Athens yesterday.
The decision made public during Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan's official visit to Greece is highly significant since the two countries stopped just short of going to war not long ago over a string of islands in the Aegean. To many outsiders the crisis in 1996 was triggered by a sovereignty dispute over two tiny barren islets inhabited only by goats. But it was not the first time the two came to the brink of war. In 1987 Turkey and Greece almost went to war over the issue of oil and gas exploration in the Aegean.
Following the process of rapprochement that started in 1999 relations between the two countries have improved with each passing day but the positive atmosphere in bilateral ties has not reflected itself in the military dimension to date. “Dog fights” in Aegean airspace is not a rarity and the Web site of the Turkish Office of General Staff still displays weekly violation of Greek fighters.
The decision to expand military cooperation, the details of which were disclosed during a joint press conference in Athens is an important step in the strengthening of bilateral ties. The armed forces of both countries will expand high-level visits, and conduct joint missions in NATO, disaster assistance efforts and overseas peacekeeping duties, Dora Bakoyannis said during a press conference after talks with Ali Babacan.
“Our relations are developing in a dynamic way ... but this requires continued hard work,” Bakoyannis said. For his part, Babacan underlined that “this new package of confidence-building measures is proof of the will of both countries to improve bilateral ties.”