Greek president in Israel as ties warm

AFP , Monday 11 Jul 2011

President Karolos Papoulias' visit comes a week after his authorities prevented a flotilla of pro-Palestinian activists from departing Greece's waters for Gaza

Karolos Papoulias
Greek President Karolos Papoulias shakes hands with Israel's Speaker of the Parliament Reuven Rivlin during his visit to the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem July 11, 2011 (Photo: Reuters)

Visiting Greek President Karolos Papoulias was meeting on Monday with Israeli leaders, as long-frosty relations between the two Mediterranean nations reach new heights of cooperation.

Papoulias's three-day trip, which will also take him briefly to the Palestinian territories, comes a week after Athens effectively prevented a flotilla of pro-Palestinian activists from reaching Gaza and breaching Israel's naval blockade of strip.

"We are pursuing a strong relationship, strong on trade, strong on investment, strong on political and security cooperation," Papoulias told the Jerusalem Post in an interview ahead of his visit.

The Greek president met his Israeli counterpart Shimon Peres, a fellow elder statesmen who likewise holds a largely ceremonial office.

He was also to hold talks later the same day with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman as well as opposition leader Tzipi Livni.

Greece, which has traditionally had strong ties with the Arab world, has moved closer to Israel in the past two years on the back of a chill in relations between Israel and Greece's arch-rival Turkey.

Israel and Turkey saw their once-strong alliance hit the rocks after a raid by Israeli naval commandos killed nine Turkish activists on a flotilla of aid ships trying to breach the Gaza Strip blockade in 2010.

A second flotilla failed to sail for Gaza waters this month after Greece refused to give the ships permission to set sail and coast guard vessels with commandos on board intercepted those who tried to sail anyway.

Papoulias did not deny the improved relations were partly a result of the situation with Turkey.

"In diplomacy there are always connections, influencing factors, objective and subjective criteria, changing geopolitical and geoeconomic factors that shape relationships," he told the Jerusalem Post.

Ties have also been boosted in the wake of the economic crisis affecting Greece, which has sought new investors, and Israel's discovery of promising gas fields in the eastern Mediterranean.

Chief among the fields is the Leviathan cache, believed to hold 16 trillion cubic feet (450 billion cubic metres) of reserves, and Greece hopes to position itself as a potential conduit of gas to the European continent.

"The discovery of major reserves off the coast of Cyprus and Israel changes the geoeconomic situation in the region. It opens up new opportunities for cooperation between Greece, Israel and Cyprus," Papoulias told the Post.

Papoulias is also to meet Greek Orthodox religious leaders in the Holy Land and travel to Ramallah in the West Bank on Tuesday for meetings with Palestinian officials.

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