Turkey wants to strenghten its influence in the Balkans

Turkey wants to help turn the war-ravaged Balkans into a region of cooperation with a joint future in the European Union and NATO, President Abdullah Gül has said, as part of Turkey’s increased involvement in the region where it has historic influence.

“It is our desire to have the whole region united under a wider umbrella of the European Union and NATO,” Gül said after talks with Serbia’s President Boris Tadic and the three members of Bosnia’s multiethnic presidency on Tuesday.

“We believe that the Balkans is not at the end of Europe, but that it is the heart of Europe,” Gül said. “We want to … strengthen cooperation and move jointly toward solving burning issues.”

The talks at the Karadjordjevo residency near the border with Croatia came a year after Turkey hosted a similar summit in İstanbul, aimed at bringing former Balkan foes Serbia and Bosnia closer together.

Turkey’s diplomatic initiative illustrates its bid to renew its influence in the Balkans stemming from centuries-long Ottoman rule and close ties with the region’s Muslims.

“Turkey has its historic reasons and … legitimate interests for its presence in the Balkans,” Serbia’s president Tadic said. “We want the entire region to be integrated into the European Union as soon as possible … this is our main political goal.”

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