President begins visit to Azerbaijan on Monday

President of the Republic Karolos Papoulias will begin a three-day state visit to Azerbaijan on Monday, during which he will hold talks with his Azeri counterpart Ilham Aliyev.

Indicative of Athens' political volition to boost the already dynamic relations with Baku, with emphasis on economic and energy cooperation, is the fact that Papoulias will be accompanied by foreign minister Dimitris Droutsas, maritime affairs minister Yiannis Diamantidis, deputy finance minister Filippos Sahinidis and deputy environment, energy and climate change minister Yiannis Maniatis, who will sign cooperation agreements in the sectors of energy, shipping, the environment and culture.

Papoulias' visit comes after a series of frequent high level visits between the two countries, beginning with Aliyev's visit to Athens in early 2009.

The two Presidents will inaugurate the 4th Greek-Azeri Business Forum, while during the visit a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) will be signed between Greece's public natgas corporation DEPA and the Azeri state oil company SOCAR for intensifying negotiations aiming at the signature of an agreement between the two companies enabling DEPA to purchase Azeri natural gas directly from supplier SOCAR rather than via the Turkish state-run gas company BOTAS.

This is considered the "ripest" agreement to be signed by an EU country with SOCAR for supply of Caspian natural gas, and will make Greece the first EU member to get natural gas directly from the Caspian. The agreement will be signed by Sahinidis on behalf of Greece.

Equally important is the maritime cooperation agreement to be signed by Diamantidis, which will open many fields of cooperation both for the transport of oil from Azerbaijan and due to the Azeri merchant fleet's position in the Mediterranean.

Droutsas in turn, will sign a cultural cooperation agreement for the years 2011-2013, which includes matters falling under the jurisdiction of the ministry of culture and the ministry of education, which are considered fundamental for all further cooperation.

The fourth agreement, to be signed by Maniatis, aims to promote environmental cooperation between the two countries, with Greece providing knowhow in a variety of areas such as feasibility studies and structural material, waste and water management, and exploitation of renewable energy sources (RES).

Papoulias and Aliyev themselves are due to discuss a broad range of political and economic matters and bilateral relations, regional issues of concern to the international community, and brief each other on matters of national interest.

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