ATHENS (JTA) – Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou was scheduled to consult with his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu regarding drilling for natural gas near Cyprus.
According to sources in the Greek Foreign Ministry, Papandreou was set to have a phone conversation with Netanyahu on Wednesday evening.
After repeated threats by Turkey against drilling in its Exclusive Economic Zone off the coast of Cyprus, as well as threats against Israel, Papandreou and members of the Greek security cabinet met Wednesday for two hours to assess the situation, which reportedly is escalating quickly.
According to the American drilling company Noble Energy, there are some 10 trillion cubic feet of natural gas off the seashore south of Cyprus.
A spokeswoman for the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the drilling by the Cypriot government is illegal and that the gas belongs to both the Greek and Turkish states of the island.
The drilling by Noble Energy, which also will drill in Israel’s Leviathan block, is set to begin at the end of the week.
On Sunday, Papandreou will meet with three American Jewish organizations while he is in New York for the annual United Nations General Assembly. The Greek leader asked to meet on the sidelines with major American Jewish organizations; he will visit with leaders of The Conference of Major American Jewish Organizations, the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League.
According to diplomatic sources, Papandreou will discuss the tightening of the cooperation between the Jewish and Greek Diaspora in the United States as well as the Turkish threats and how the U.S. can help.
Meanwhile, the Jewish Federations of North America wrapped up a three-day visit in Greece. Greek President Karolos Papoulias hosted a JFNA delegation on Wednesday; Papandreous was among those at the meeting.
Papoulias referred to his country’s dire economic crisis, noting that this was "unprecedented in Greece’s recent history." The president also referred to Athens’ desire for a just, viable and comprehensive resolution of the Middle East problem based on two independent states that will coexist in peace and security.
The Greek president also repeated Greece’s determination that atrocities such as the Holocaust should never happen again.
"Both as a state and society, we are determined not to show the slightest tolerance for actions and statements of anti-Semitism, racial or religious fanaticism or other forms of bigotry," he stressed.
The American delegation praised the Greek government for the upgrading of bilateral relations between Greece and Israel.
The JFNA group flew to Salonika, where it was hosted by the Jewish community and met the city’s mayor, Yiannis Boutaris. The mayor reiterated his plan and vision to make Salonika again the "the Jerusalem of the Balkans," as the city was known in its heyday before World War II, by restoring the Jewish places so Jews around the world can visit.