Greece's prime minister promised on Thursday to help Israel repair strained ties with the European Union as part of a drive to promote investment in Greece.
George Papandreou said in a speech to Jewish American leaders visiting Athens that Greece could help Israel gain access to European markets.
"We see the (European) market expanding to the Mediterranean and certainly we would like to integrate Israel into this European market," he said. "I think this is vital for Israel's economy but also for its strategic security."
Last year, Greece was saved from bankruptcy by a $150 billion loan package from its European partners and the International Monetary Fund. In return, the governing Socialists took swift shock measures, cutting pensions and salaries while raising taxes and retirement ages. Greece's jobless rate rose to 13.9% in November.
Relations between the EU and the Jewish state took a turn for the worse two years ago, after Israel's military assault on Gaza. Brussels has also repeatedly denounced the building of Israeli settlements in east Jerusalem and the West Bank.
Greece has traditionally close ties with the Palestinians and Arab countries and only established diplomatic ties with the Jewish State in 1990. But in recent months, Greece and Israel have launched a series of negotiations for potential cooperation deals.
Officials in Israel and Greece have said they are holding preliminary talks on potential energy deals involving newly discovered Israeli offshore natural gas deposits that include fields near the Palestinian Gaza Strip.
Alan P. Solow, chairman of the influential Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said the gas discovery could be "highly significant" for Israel. But he cautioned that commercial viability and exploitation boundaries with other countries must be worked out.
"What is sure is that if the finds are significant, everyone in reach will try and make a claim for a piece of the pie. I'm hopeful that it will be worked out," Solow said in an interview.
He pledged to back Greek efforts to attract more foreign investment.
"Is there all of a sudden going to be a great influx of Jewish money into Greece? It doesn't work that way... but we will help put Greece on more people's radar screens," he said.
On Thursday, Papandreou's ministers of foreign affairs, investment, public order, tourism and defense held meetings with a delegation from the American Jewish conference but their presentations at a downtown Athens hotel were closed to the media.
Papandreou said Greece was seeking cooperation in tourism, agriculture, defense and high-tech innovation and that the two nations would hold a joint Cabinet meeting in Israel in April.
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