Greece backs Istanbul 2020 bid

ISTANBUL -- Greece has offered its support to regional rival Turkey's bid to host the 2020 Olympics.

The prime ministers of both countries signed an agreement pledging to cooperate on Istanbul's latest bid for the games.

The accord was signed by Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras following meetings in Istanbul on Sunday and Monday.

In a joint declaration, the leaders said they are committed to "engage in cooperation with regard to the technical and related aspects in the organization of the 2020 Summer Olympic Games."

The agreement said the two sides will "explore ways of enhancing the benefits of the Olympics for the two countries as well as for the entire Balkan and Black Sea region" if Istanbul wins the bid.

Greece, the home of the ancient Olympics and birthplace of the modern games, last hosted the Olympics in Athens in 2004.

Istanbul, bidding for a fifth time, is competing against Tokyo and Madrid for the 2020 Games. The International Olympic Committee will select the host city in Buenos Aires on Sept. 7.

"The ties between Turkey and Greece have been strengthened today, thanks to the power of the Olympic movement to build bridges," Istanbul bid leader Hasan Arat said. "The closer cooperation between our countries will be a valuable and lasting legacy of our bid."

Greece and Turkey mounted a joint bid for soccer's 2008 European Championship, which was awarded to Austria and Switzerland.

Turkey and Greece nearly went to war three times between 1974 and 1996. Relations between the uneasy NATO allies have improved greatly since the late 1990s, but Athens and Ankara remain at odds over a broad range of issues, including war-divided Cyprus, Aegean Sea boundaries, and illegal immigration.