19 November, 2007
Greece and Turkey on Sunday took a major step in linking Caspian Sea gas suppliers with west European markets as Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan met on the bridge over the Evros River at the Kipi border crossing on the Greek-Turkish frontier to inaugurate a natural gas pipeline that went into operation the same day.
The two prime ministers shook hands and posed for photographers, after which Karamanlis rode with the Turkish premier to the town of Ipsala, on the Turkish side of the border, for an inauguration ceremony. This was the second time that the two prime ministers met on the bridge over the Evros River, the first time being in July 2005 when work on the project first began.
The inauguration ceremony was also attended by Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev, US Secretary for Energy Samuel Bodman and Greek Parliament President Dimitris Sioufas, who was instrumental in the promoting Athens' side of the deal as development minister.
The pipeline is expected to transport a large quantity of natural gas from the Caspian Sea region via Turkey and Greece to Italy and from there to the rest of Europe.
The two prime ministers inaugurated the project in twin ceremonies held at Ipsala in Edirne, Turkey and at the village of Peplos in Evros prefecture, on the Greek side of the border, with Karamanlis sending a message that "we can plan actions and carry out works that contribute to building a better future".
Addressing the Turkish side, meanwhile, the Greek premier stressed that Greece, its government and all its political forces were "once again seeking good neighbour relations, relations of cooperation, relations of continual rapprochement between the two peoples".
In his own message, Erdogan expressed hope that cooperation between Greece and Turkey on this first major and important project would extend to political and cultural issues between the two countries.
"The pipeline acts beneficially in our relations. We send from Evros today an important message of cooperation, through new corridors; a message for new opportunities and new possibilities; a message for growth, progress and prosperity of the two peoples; a message for a productive and fruitful tomorrow. The new era demands more than ever for us to see ahead, further," Karamanlis said at Ipsala and again in Peplos, while speaking directly to the Turkish side, he stressed:
"I wish to assure you yet again that Greece -- the government, all the political forces, all the Greeks -- seeks relations of good neighbourliness, relations of cooperation, relations of constant rapprochement between the two peoples. We firmly support your country's European prospects."
In a related development, Karamanlis is expected to visit Turkey in early 2008, a decision announced following a 20-minute meeting between Karamanlis and Erdogan on Sunday in Ipsala.
The exact date and details of the official visit would be decided via diplomatic channels.
Meanwhile, Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan is due to visit Athens on Dec. 3.
There was no agenda for the meeting between the two premiers, who said they had discussed bilateral issues, Turkey's prospects of EU accession and the importance of the pipeline's operation for relations between their two countries.
The Greek premier also had a brief meeting with Azerbaijan's Aliyev, during which they discussed bilateral cooperation in energy, economic affairs and trade.
Attending the inauguration ceremony on Sunday on the Greece-Turkey frontier, US Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman welcomed what he said was an "extraordinary project" and a "critical new energy bridge between the East and West".
Stressing that this "Inter-connector pipeline" was the first link between Azerbaijan and Caspian gas suppliers of Central Asia to European consumers, he said its presence marked the beginning of a market expansion leading to a diversification for consumers and suppliers - who would all benefit from the resulting competition.
"This project is remarkable in many ways, not the least of which is the technical and financial complexity involved in its construction. Building this pipeline also required a regional consensus, complex environmental analyses, and a lengthy and productive dialogue with all of the communities along the entire route,"
Bodman said, congratulating the Turkish and Greek prime ministers and those who had "the vision and commitment of those who conceived this pipeline".
He also hailed the project as a major advancement for the countries in southern Europe, providing a vital new energy supply link that underscored the new ways of doing business in Central Asia, a region full of new energy partners.
"This Turkey-Greece Inter-Connector is a critical first step in a new energy supply chain; and it comes on line at a critically important time. The European Union is the world’s biggest gas import market - and one of the world’s fastest growing. It is reasonable to expect that Europe’s dependence on energy imports will continue to grow over the next 25 years - meaning that Azerbaijan and the rest of Central Asia is poised to become Europe’s newest main source of supply, alongside the North Sea region, Russia, and North Africa," Bodman noted.
Finally, he stressed the need for continued cooperation of all the potential stakeholders: "The development of new projects over considerable distances is costly; they will need to be undertaken on a large scale if they are to be commercially viable. New partners -- including Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan -- need to be brought into negotiations and the EU will need to open up its gas markets to competition," the U.S. official added.
Source: Athens News Agency