ISTANBUL - It is time for Greece and Turkey to find a way to circumvent differences that have left ties in tatters for half a century, their prime ministers said on Monday.

"It is true we have a charged history, we have had our crises and our difficulties that we cannot disregard," Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said at a joint conference in Istanbul. "But from today onwards we can begin to move on and make a history in the path of peace and development," he said in remarks translated from Greek.

Ankara and Athens have had an uneasy relationship for several decades, particularly due to disagreements over the divided island of Cyprus, as well as territorial disputes in the Aegean and East Mediterranean. Samaras made his remarks after the signing ceremony of some two dozen cooperation agreements, including in culture, health, justice, technology and immigration, aimed at improving relations between the neighbours. "We might have our differences but we do want to resolve them by opening up new channels for dialogue," added Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The agreements were signed by a group of Turkish ministers and their Greek counterparts who accompanied Samaras to the second High-Level Cooperation Council, held three years after the first meeting in Athens. Dozens of Greek business people were also part of Samaras's entourage in Istanbul. "The fact we got together today is proof that Turks and Greeks can sit around the table and talk," Samaras added.

Turkey and Greece have been conducting exploratory talks for more than a decade to find a solution to their territorial dispute in the Aegean, without much progress.

In 1996, the two countries came to the brink of a military confrontation over two small, uninhabited islets in the Aegean.

They have also been trying to resolve disagreements over economic zones where both countries claim rights to exploit hydrocarbon sources under the Mediterranean seabed.

"We have agreed that we need to work together on the exclusive economic zones for a win-win situation," Erdogan said.

Cyprus was split in 1974 when Turkish troops invaded the northern third of the island in response to a Greek-inspired coup in Nicosia aimed at uniting the island with Greece.

Turkey only recognises the breakaway state in the north and not the government of the Republic of Cyprus, which became an EU member in 2004.

"We want to rise above the issues in Cyprus and bury this problem in history," Erdogan said.