ANKARA (AFP)–Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis Thursday used the occasion of the first visit by a Greek Prime Minister to Turkey in almost 50 years to push for closer ties and warn of the "immense" cost if tensions persist.
"We have a lot to gain by moving ahead together. We have even more to lose by following the path of tension and enmity," Karamanlis said in an address at the capital’s Bilkent University.
"The way ahead will be long and difficult. But the cost of not moving ahead…would be immense."
Karamanlis reiterated Greece’s support for Turkey’s bid to join the European Union, but stressed that Ankara could become a full member only when it complies with all the norms of the bloc.
"A European Turkey will be in the benefit, first, of its people and then the region and the continent as a whole," he said. "Recourse to the use or threat of use of force is not an option for modern European states."
Traditional rivals, Turkey and Greece have significantly improved relations over the past decade but remain at loggerheads over territorial disputes in the Aegean and over Cyprus.
In 1995, Turkey declared it was prepared to go to war to prevent Greece from extending its territorial waters from six to 12 miles.
A decade later, in 2005, a Greek pilot was killed when fighter jets from the two countries crashed during a mock dogfight over the Aegean.
Since January 2002, diplomats have been holding regular closed-door talks over territorial issues, but no progress has been publicized and mutual accusations of violations continue on an almost daily basis.
The partition of Cyprus, whose Turkish Cypriot northern third has been occupied by Turkey since 1974, remains a major stumbling block to Ankara’s EU membership efforts.
Karamanlis and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan said after talks Wednesday that both governmen’s were determined to pursue efforts to resolve outstanding problems.
Tensions between the two NATO allies have improved significantly after 1999, when deadly earthquakes that hit both countries sparked an unprecedented outpouring of popular solidarity.
Karamanlis met Turkish President Abdullah Gul and main opposition leader Deniz Baykal on Thursday.
He also laid a wreath at the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who founded modern Turkey on the ashes of the Ottoman Empire in 1923 after defeating the Greek armies that invaded western Anatolia.
Karamanlis was to go to Istanbul later Thursday to meet Patriarch Bartholomew I, the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians.
The Patriarchate has been based in Istanbul since Byzantine times, when the city was called Constantinople.
Athens is also pressing Ankara to return properties confiscated from Turkey’s tiny Greek minority, re-open an Orthodox seminary in Istanbul and endorse Bartholomew I’s ecumenical title. The Turkish Government has yet to grant the Greek Patriarchate ecumenical status, arguing the patriarchate is the spiritual leader of only Turkey’s Greek population.
Karamanlis was to wrap up his visit Friday after attending a meeting of Turkish and Greek business people.