TURKEY, SYRIA: Nations sign historic accord, end visa requirements
The two nations' foreign ministers announced that Syrians could travel to Turkey without visas, and vice versa, as the countries' leaders held talks on Turkish-mediated efforts to ease tensions between Baghdad and Damascus and foster peace between Syria and Israel, according to the English-language Today's Zaman news website.
The two countries also signed a cooperation deal similar to one Turkey penned with Iraq. For years Iranians and Turks have been able to cross their border without visas.
Though a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization which hosts a major United States military base, Turkey maintains strong diplomatic and economic relations with many of the Middle East's main players, including U.S. rivals Iran and Syria.
Istanbul ruled much of the Near East until 90 years ago as the power center of the Ottoman Empire. But for decades, it turned its eyes toward Europe, shunning the Muslim world.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was candid about Turkey's new aim to cement economic and political ties to the region.
“When all of these mechanisms are brought together, we are sure that the environment of economic integration, welfare and peace will make great progress," he said.
"We want this understanding to spread into our region and the region to turn into a very wide zone of welfare and strong stability," he said. "We may establish similar mechanisms with Iran and other mechanisms. We want our relationship with our neighbors to turn into maximum cooperation via the principle of zero problems.”
-- Borzou Daragahi in Beirut
Photo: Syria's Foreign Minister Walid Moualem, right, attends a joint press conference with his Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu, left, in Istanbul, on Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2009. Credit: Bulent Kilic / AFP/Getty Images