Ipsala Border Crossing, Turkey- The Turkish and Greek prime ministers met Sunday on a bridge over the river that divides their countries to launch a joint construction project to connect rich natural gas fields in the Caspian Sea area and Central Asia to energy-hungry markets in Europe.
The 300-kilometer (186-mile) pipeline from Bursa in Turkey to Komotini in Greece is expected to go into operation in 2006, and will later be extended to Italy as part of the Southern Europe Gas Ring Project.
The pipeline is expected to carry 405 billion cubic feet of gas a year when connections are made to other planned pipelines, and as demand for Caspian gas – an alternative energy source to the politically volatile Middle East – expands in coming years.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Prime Minister Costas Caramanlis of Greece met at the middle of a bridge over the Meric River – called the Evros River in Greece – to formally launch construction of the pipeline. The river serves as a border between the two countries.
"This pipeline is connecting two countries and two people together," Caramanlis said. "But most important of all, it is the first and key link in the Southern Europe Gas Ring Project."
"Turkey is a bridge between Europe and rich (oil and gas) resources in the Caspian region and the southern Mediterranean, when the diversification of oil and gas resources in the European energy market is in question," Erdogan said.
Both leaders referred to improving relations between their countries.
"This (project) will help strengthen our friendship and put an end to speculation" about Greek-Turkish ties, Erdogan said.
Caramanlis said, "This is a very important development which shows both countries can cooperate like never before."