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Friday, April 16, 2010    

EU asks Turkey, Greece to cut military budgets

ANKARA — The European Union has requested reductions in the military budgets of Greece and Turkey. Officials said Brussels asserted that such a move would ease tension between the two neighbors and facilitate Ankara's membership in the EU.   

"The idea is to create a weapons-free zone in the Aegean," another official said. "But this is impossible unless the border is delineated."

Turkey's military, meanwhile, plans to maintain its air and naval deployment in the disputed Aegean Sea.

Officials said the Turkish General Staff has determined that tensions with neighboring Greece have not dropped over the last year to a level that would enable reduced military deployment in the Aegean.

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They cited both air and naval confrontations as part of the territorial dispute between Ankara and Athens.

"It’s not really possible to restructure a security settlement in the Aegean given the current conditions," a senior Turkish military officer told a briefing on April 10.

Officials said EU leaders, particularly German Chancellor Angela Merkel, told Ankara that Greece would be forced to reduce its defense budget as part of the recovery from its financial crisis. They said Ankara should follow suit to encourage Athens to cancel several major military programs, including the procurement of naval submarines.

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute said Ankara has outspent Athens in defense $11.6 billion to $9.7 billion. Turkey has the second largest military in NATO.

Officials said the Turkish Air Force has flown training missions over the Aegean without air-to-air or air-to-ground missiles. They said the Hellenic Air Force, however, continues to fly missions with a full weapons payload.

"We have been calling for goodwill, coordination and cooperation, and our fighter planes in the Aegean have been flying without any payload for years," Turkish Chief of Staff Gen. Ilker Basbug said on April 10. "But the Greek jets are flying with a full payload."

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