Greece and Azerbaijan on Tuesday signed a memorandum of understanding making "the first decisive step to open the south corridor for the transfer of Azeri natural gas to Europe".

The memorandum, signed by the President of the Republic Karolos Papoulias and his Azeri counterpart Ilham Aliyev, highlights the political support offered by both countries to a plan to build and operate an ITGI pipeline, designed to carry Azeri natural gas to central European markets.

During talks held between Yiannis Maniatis, Environment, Energy and Climate Change Deputy Minister, and Azeri government officials in Baku, it was made clear that the Azeri government will take the final decisions -on whether it will support the ITGI pipeline project instead of the rival Nabucco- by the end of 2011.

Another strong evidence is the fact that Turkey agreed that SOCAR -the Azeri state oil company- would sell natural gas to a DEPA-Edison consortium directly. This decision was announced by Turkey's Energy Minister during a meeting with the Greek deputy Minister in an international oil forum in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, recently. Greek government officials said that if these signs were confirmed, "Greece would be established as an entry gate for Azeri gas to Europe and a factor of energy security for Europe".

Another advantage to promoting the ITGI pipeline, officials said, is the fact that its construction has made significant progress and that all environmental studies have been approved by Greek authorities. The project has been included in a Fourth Community Support Framework program.

During the last phase of negotiations, the Greek side has also left the door open to build vertical pipelines to the east and west Balkans.