Greek Officials Visit Israel to Discuss Strained Relations

Israeli-Greek relations may be thawing. After months of strain over Israel’s increasingly close military ties with Turkey, Greece’s longstanding rival in the region, a delegation of high-level Greek officials visited Jerusalem this week for what observers said was an attempt to re-establish a constructive bilateral dialogue.

During the trip, which also included a visit to the Palestinian self-rule areas, the Greek delegation met with Israeli Foreign Minister Ariel Sharon and the director general of the Foreign Ministry, Eitan Ben-Tsur, for discussions on a wide range of issues, including the Middle East peace process.

Greece’s deputy foreign minister, Yiannos Kranidiotis, stressed the importance attached by Greece and the European Union to the implementation of the Wye accord — a development he said would benefit not only the Israelis and the Palestinians, but also the cause of peace in the wider area of the eastern Mediterranean.

Kranidiotis also held out a carrot to his hosts, saying that implementing Wye would enable the European Union to forge closer political and economic ties with Israel.

But perhaps of greatest importance to the visiting delegation, the series of military agreements Israel signed last year with Turkey came up during the meetings. Sharon assured his guests that cooperation between Turkey and Israel is not directed against third countries.

In an effort to put tensions over the issue behind them, the two sides agreed to begin discussing military and economic cooperation.

They agreed to continue these discussions in late February, when Sharon is slated to visit Athens.

The Greek delegation also met with members of Israel’s opposition Labor Party, including prime ministerial candidate Ehud Barak.

In those meetings, too, they discussed upgrading bilateral relations.

In an apparent effort to keep the lines of communications open should Labor win Israel’s May elections, the delegation invited Barak to visit Athens in March.

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