Quiet Bridge-Building

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), January 26, 2008 | Go to article overview
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Quiet Bridge-Building

Byline: Soner Cagaptay and John Sitilides, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

In 1959, President Dwight Eisenhower reassured West Germany of its NATO security against any Soviet invasion, Fidel Castro seized control of Cuba's government, and the prime ministers of NATO allies Greece and Turkey held official meetings in Ankara for the last time - until this week. Greek Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis met with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan Jan. 23 to discuss bilateral, regional and international issues, including growing trade and investment between their respective economies as well as sovereignty disputes in the Aegean Sea and the division of Cyprus.

More importantly, Mr. Karamanlis and Mr. Erdogan also discussed bilateral confidence-building measures. The official visit, only the third by a Greek prime minister to Ankara since the 1923 founding of modern Turkey, is historic in that it further consolidates an ongoing, if quiet, rapprochement between the two neighbors.

The agenda is basic: the normalization of Greek-Turkish relations, which took a positive turn in 1999 after the two countries suffered consecutive earthquakes, triggering reciprocal outpouring of popular assistance and disaster relief. The two countries' foreign and security policy elites then embarked on mutual policies of rapprochement, agreeing to disagree on their disputes, while freeing Greek and Turkish leaders to exploit the enormous potential for deep cooperation between the two countries.

Since 1999, bilateral trade has mushroomed from $200 million to more than $3 billion in 2007, and tourism between the two Aegean counties has prospered. Greek banks, long invested in the Balkans, have turned to Turkey, where the National Bank of Greece acquired Finansbank - Turkey's fifth-largest - in 2006 for $2 billion.

In 2007, Turkey's largest and most profitable national bank received approval from Greece's central bank to initiate banking services there, and will soon open its first office in Athens.

Greece and Turkey recently opened a natural gas pipeline that renders them economically interdependent for the first time by connecting the energy-rich Caspian basin through their territories to European Union markets.

These examples of strategic economic cooperation could be transformational for the region. After all, this is how France and Germany normalized their relations following World War II, when they set up a trade and production regime centered on coal and steel that eventually became the EU.

Greek-Turkish rapprochement is working not just for the two countries, but could contribute to broader ties between Europe and the Middle East.

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