World Bulletin / News Desk
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has praised expanding strategic cooperation with neighboring Syria, saying it helps the national economies of the two countries prosper.
Erdoğan, speaking in an interview with Syrian news agency SANA, said Turkey and Syria were working together to remove Cold War-era obstacles that until the last few years stood in the way of closer ties between the two nations, which lived in peace for centuries, thus putting “history back on its right course.”
Erdoğan was speaking prior to a meeting of the High-Level Strategic Council, which began late on Monday in Ankara. The two-day gathering of Turkish and Syrian ministers is the second such meeting, the first having been held in December 2009. Twelve ministers from the Turkish side and 13 from the Syrian side are participating in the talks, as well as the prime ministers. Syrian Prime Minister Naji Otri was due to meet with Erdoğan at a dinner on Monday as part of the high-level meetings.
Erdoğan said the High-Level Strategic Council helped to establish a solid base for Turkish-Syrian ties to flourish. He also praised Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, saying his long-term strategic vision played a significant role in bringing about the rapid progress in Syria's ties with Turkey.
Syria under Assad's rule and Turkey under the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) have taken radical steps to bury past enmities and build mutual cooperation since the early 2000s.
Since then, the two countries have intensified security cooperation and political contacts, coordinated their stance on regional issues such as the situations in Iraq and Lebanon, expanded trade and business ties, established committees to work on the problematic water-sharing issue and abolished visas.
Erdoğan said a joint technical committee was still working on plans to build a dam on the Orontes (Asi in Turkish) River, which originates in Lebanon and passes through Syria before reaching Turkey. The committee is also working on ways to increase the amount of water and electricity Turkey supplies to Syria, Erdoğan said. The two countries are involved in a project to connect their national natural gas networks as well. Erdoğan said it would be completed by the end of 2011.
Erdoğan also said tourism between the two countries has developed remarkably in recent years, adding that over 10 months of 2010, around one-and-a-half million Turkish tourists visited Syria, while up to 1 million Syrian tourists visited Turkey.
Bilateral trade has also increased, reaching $2.1 billion for the first 10 months of 2010, up from $1.4 billion last year. Syrian exports to Turkey rose from $283 million last year to $602 million over the first 10 months of this year.
In addition to their bilateral cooperation, Turkey and Syria also signed a four-way agreement with Jordan and Lebanon to eventually create a free trade zone. In remarks published in Turkish media on Monday, President Assad said a visa-free travel zone could be created in the Middle East, similar to the Schengen area in Europe.
"Turkey concerned over US failure"
Regarding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Erdogan said Turkey was deeply concerned over USA's failure to convince Israel to stop construction of Jewish settlements in Palestine.
Erdogan also called on USA and EU member countries to pressure Israel to change its current policies that hindered peace and stability in the region.
Commenting on the Israeli attack on Mavi Marmara aid ship, Erdogan said Turkey's demands on the issue had not changed and reiterated that Israel should apologize to the Republic of Turkey and pay a certain compensation for the normalization of its relations with Turkey.
Concerning Turkey-EU relations, the Turkish prime minister said there were broad, comprehensive and dynamic relations between the two sides that constantly evolved in all political, economic and cultural fields.
Noting that Turkey had been fulfilling its duties and responsibilities in its EU membership talks, Erdogan said negotiations did not proceed as fast as they should due to obstacles placed by some member countries.
Regarding Cyprus issue, Erdogan noted that Turkey supported of all efforts exerted to find a comprehensive solution to the matter.
Turkish PM hails growing Syria links
Turkish PM hails growing Syria links, concerned with Israel settlements
World Bulletin / News Desk