Turkey eyes closer cooperation with Arabs

07:48, July 22, 2010      

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Turkish President Abdullah Gul concluded his visit to Egypt on Wednesday, in a latest effort to deepen economic cooperation and political coordination with the Arab world.

During his meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo, Gul and Mubarak discussed efforts to revive the Middle East peace process and other regional developments of mutual interest, Egypt's official MENA news agency reported.

Before Gul's visit, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu met with Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal in Damascus on Monday and discussed efforts to heal the rift between Hamas, the Islamic group controlling the Gaza Strip, and the Fatah Party of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, according to Turkey's semi- official Anatolia news agency.

Since coming to power in 2002, Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has implemented policies to boost economic ties with its neighboring countries. It announced an agreement with Lebanon and Jordan to step up economic integration through free trade zones in June.

Seeking a stronger role in the Middle East, the AKP has also tried to improve political ties with Muslim countries, including former foes Syria and Iran.

In March 2003, Turkish Parliament's decision to refuse to cooperate with the United States in the war against Iraq won it kudos in the Muslim Arab world.

Angry at Israel's offensive in Gaza in the winter of 2008, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan stormed out of a debate with Israeli President Shimon Peres in the World Economic Forum in Davos in 2009. Recently, Turkey has slammed Israeli forces' deadly raid on an international aid ship to Gaza in May.

As ties with its old ally Israel went sour, Turkey raised concerns that it is shifting its foreign policy axis away from the West, which however was rejected by Ankara.

"From Kars (in east Turkey) to Morocco and Mauritania, from Sinop (in north Turkey) to Sudan, from Istanbul Strait to Gulf of Aden, Turkish and Arab geographies own the most strategic belt of the world. We want to turn it into a security and economic integration belt," said Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu in his address during the Turkish-Arab Cooperation Forum held in the Turkish largest city of Istanbul in June.

Turkey's bid to engage more with its neighbors does not mean a shift eastward or westward, said Mustafa Kutlay, a researcher with the Center for EU Studies of the Ankara-based International Strategic Research Organization.

"It is just a normal strategy in the sense of fostering a more stable and prosperous neighborhood, which will eventually benefit Turkey itself," said Kutlay in an interview with Xinhua.

As Turkey reaches out, Arabs have developed more positive impressions of the country. Turkey was seen as a successful example of the coherence of Islam and democracy and thus considered as a "model" for the Arab world, according to a survey by the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV) in July 2009.

The survey, made by telephone in Egypt, Jordan, the Palestinian territories, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Syria, and face-to-face in Iraq, showed that Turkey ranked second in Arab respondents' opinions, following Saudi Arabia, with 75 percent of respondents having very favorable or favorable views of Turkey.

Source: Xinhua


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