Balkan leaders to meet at Greece summit

A two-day Balkan summit starting Wednesday in Greece will seek to boost ties with the European Union and improve regional cooperation, officials said. "We have very close cooperation with the other countries," Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis said Tuesday. "Good regional cooperation always bears positive results for all the peoples in the area."

The Southeast European Cooperation Process, or SEECP, summit opens in the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki Wednesday with a meeting of foreign ministers, while heads of state and government will hold talks Thursday. The SEECP members are Albania , Bosnia-Herzegovina , Bulgaria , Croatia , Greece , Macedonia , Romania , Serbia-Montenegro and Turkey , while Moldova has observer status. Greece is set to hand over the one-year presidency of the group to Croatia after the summit.

The agenda will focus on cooperation in assisting the EU prospects of regional countries, and the strengthening of political dialogue and infrastructure projects, Foreign Ministry spokesman Giorgos Koumoutsakos said. He said regional leaders will also discuss creating an SEECP representation at the EU.

Greece is the only SEECP member that also belongs to the EU. Romania and Bulgaria are set to join the 25-nation bloc in 2007 or 2008, while other SEECP states are also hoping for membership. On the sidelines of the summit on Thursday, Greek Prime Minister Costas Caramanlis will meet Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan, officials said.

Relations between NATO allies Greece and Turkey have improved considerably in recent years, after the two neighbors came close to war in 1996 over the disputed Aegean Sea rocks. But tensions still simmer, fueled by airspace and territorial waters disputes. There also remains the problem of Cyprus divided into a Greek Cypriot south and a Turkish Cypriot north since 1974, when Turkey invaded after an abortive Athens-backed coup by supporters of union with Greece. Bakoyannis accused Turkey last week of failing to match Greek goodwill gestures, hinting that unspecified Turkish "provocations" could hinder the country's hopes of joining the European Union, reports the AP.

N.U.