Greece’s radical new Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras held talks in Cyprus Monday as he made his first foreign visit to a close ally that has also been ravaged by the eurozone crisis.
Tsipras met Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades in the capital Nicosia and was to due to address a joint news conference at 0945 GMT.
In a brief statement during a welcoming ceremony at the presidential palace, the Greek premier highlighted the close ties between the two countries.
“Cyprus is always in our minds and still in our hearts,” he said.
The hard-left Greek prime minister will find no ideological common ground with the Cyprus president.
Anastasiades is a conservative who struck a painful bailout deal with international creditors after he took over from Communist predecessor Demetris Christofias in 2013.
He has since fought doggedly to meet the terms set by creditors, despite losing his parliamentary majority amid a prolonged recession.
Tsipras’s left-wing Syriza party swept to power last week pledging to end painful austerity measures after six years of recession demanded by the EU and the International Monetary Fund in return for a 240 billion euro ($270 billion) bailout.
Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis was in London on Monday for talks with his British counterpart George Osborne as he seeks to build support for a renegotiation of the bailout in the face of German opposition.
But Greece and Cyprus have a special relationship built on a shared language and culture and it is a longstanding convention that they be the first port of call for new leaders of either country.
Anastasiades visited Athens in March 2013 on his first foreign visit as president.
The two governments have long sought to coordinate their policies within the European Union and share strong misgivings about EU sanctions imposed on Russia, which is an important economic partner for both countries.
– ‘Cyprus issue a priority’ –
Greece has also been a key military backer of the Cyprus government in its decades-old standoff with Turkey.
Turkish troops invaded the island’s northern third in 1974 following an Athens-engineered coup in Nicosia seeking union with Greece.
Athens has some 10,000 troops stationed in the south of the island and provides senior officers and training for the Greek Cypriot National Guard.
It has also been a strong diplomatic backer of the Cyprus government’s policy towards UN-backed reunification talks with Turkish Cypriot leaders, who proclaimed a breakaway state in 1983.
Tsipras renewed that backing on Monday.
“My presence here symbolises that Cyprus and your efforts for a viable solution to the Cyprus issue is a priority, as is our support in this endeavour,” he said.
The Greek Cypriot side suspended its involvement in the talks in October in protest at Turkish prospecting for offshore oil and gas in part of the island’s exclusive economic zone where the government had already licensed exploratory drills.
Tsipras has expressed support for that position calling on Ankara to withdraw its seismic vessel from the island’s waters to create an appropriate climate for a resumption of talks.
Turkey does not recognise the island’s exclusive economic zone and has called for joint exploitation of the energy deposits that will also benefit Turkish Cypriots.