Tüzmen prepares ground for fruitful outcome from Erdoğan’s visit

The state minister for foreign trade, accompanied by a group of businessmen and Turkey's special envoy to Iraq, arrived yesterday in the Iraqi capital for talks with senior officials in preparation for a landmark official visit expected to be paid to Baghdad by the Turkish premier.

State Minister for Foreign Trade Kürşad Tüzmen and the accompanying delegation, guarded by a 50-strong team of Turkish special forces members, headed for Baghdad's Al Mansour Hotel, where the minister delivered opening remarks at the inauguration of the Turkish-Iraqi Business Forum held at the hotel outside of the Green Zone in Baghdad. The forum became the first major gathering held by a foreign country out of the Green Zone in the city. Tüzmen also had separate meetings with the Iraqi oil minister, planning minister and trade minister at the hotel.
The Green Zone (International Zone) is the heavily guarded diplomatic/government area of closed-off streets in central Baghdad where US occupation authorities live and work. Turks working for Turkish companies in Iraq also attended the forum. The Turkish delegation's visit represented the largest contingent of all visits from Turkey to Baghdad since the US-led invasion of the country in 2003, Tüzmen noted in his speech at the forum.
"This time, we have kept this visit of the Turkish delegation narrower. Next time, we will try to come with a delegation of 400-500 businessmen, as we did prior to 2003. You know that I do when I make promises. I've noticed that things are gradually getting better in Iraq. It is our wish that Iraq recovers from the crisis by preserving its territorial integrity and sovereignty," Tüzmen was quoted as saying by the Anatolia news agency.
"I believe that we can create a joint economic zone at the Turkish-Iraqi border. Such a zone would be a good role model to other countries. I want to remind that the foundation of the European Union was laid down at a time when Europe was going through an economic crisis," the minister also said, noting that despite negative conditions, the trade volume between Turkey and Iraq is expected to reach $20 billion by 2010.
Tüzmen said Ankara has been preparing to sign a free-trade agreement with Iraq, with which it has been planning the free movement of goods and services.
"We believe that the establishment of a joint industrial zone at the Turkish-Iraqi border will facilitate investments, especially in the energy sector. We may be able to erect refineries and power plants at the border that will meet some of Iraq's need for electricity and oil products," Tüzmen said. "We are preparing to establish a Turkish industrial zone in the Basra region. After Turkey opens a consulate general in Basra, a foreign trade delegation from Turkey will visit the Basra region to explore business opportunities," he added.
Remarks were also delivered at the forum by Iraq's Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani, Electricity Minister Karim Wahid, Planning Minister Ali Baban, Finance Minister Bayan Jabr, Minister of Housing Bayan Dizayee and Minister for Water Resources Abd al-Latif Rashid.
Barzani: No planned meeting with Erdoğan
Turkish officials have declined to announce a date for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's visit because of security considerations, but the visit is likely to take place late this week. The visit will be the latest high-level contact between Turkey and Iraq in the aftermath of a landmark visit by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani to Ankara in March. Baghdad says it wants a strategic partnership with Turkey, and Ankara is willing to boost cooperation, particularly in the areas of energy and trade.
Foreign Minister Ali Babacan said over the weekend that a military cooperation deal could also be signed with Iraq during Erdoğan's visit, revealing that a draft framework agreement has already been prepared by officials. Turkish troops launched an eight-day ground incursion into Iraq to eliminate the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) bases there in February. Aerial strikes also continue periodically.
While in Baghdad, Erdoğan is expected to have talks with both Talabani and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Mahmoud Othman, an Iraqi member of Parliament from the Kurdish Alliance, the largest of the Kurdish blocs in the Iraqi legislature, suggested last week that Erdoğan would also meet with Nechirvan Barzani, the prime minister of the largely autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq, while in Baghdad.
Barzani nevertheless denied any plans to meet with Erdoğan. Speaking to reporters in Arbil, Barzani expressed pleasure on Saturday over Erdoğan's upcoming visit to Baghdad, Anatolia reported.
"To date, we haven't had a plan to meet with the Turkish Republic's Prime Minister Erdoğan. But of course if this takes place, we will feel very glad. We will greet him in Iraq very warmly. But there is no such plan at this point," Barzani added.
Asked to comment on recent statements by Iraqi Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani over the PKK, Nechirvan Barzani said it was Massoud Barzani who personally instructed Iraqi Kurdish officials to build good ties with Turkey. "He wants a positive solution for problems. Barzani's desire is to find a peaceful solution to problems," he said. Nechirvan Barzani also hailed a reform in the Turkish laws to allow full-day broadcasting in Kurdish on state television in Turkey. "This is how problems are resolved," he added.