(AFP) – Feb 12, 2008
ANKARA (AFP) — Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak on Tuesday met Turkey's leadership for talks aimed at tightening strategic cooperation between the two close allies and discussing regional issues, including Iran.
Barak, who arrived in Ankara for the first time since taking office last year, held talks with his Turkish counterpart Vecdi Gonul before meeting Foreign Minister Ali Babacan and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Barak and Gonul hailed their countries' military and strategic cooperation, which included in recent years a series of joint army and air force trainings, as well as an array of Israeli arms sales to its chief regional ally.
"I have come to promote cooperation of the defence establishments which are mutually beneficial for both sides. We have discussed joint issues that serve our joint interests," Barak told reporters after the meeting.
Gonul said that Turkey used Israeli-manufactured unmanned aircrafts during its cross-border strikes against the separatist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in neighbouring northern Iraq that began on December 16.
He also said that Turkish and Israeli defence ministry officials have revived talks on purchasing spy satellites developed and constructed by Israel Aerospace Industries.
"This issue hasn't been raised in our meeting but has been discussed on the technical level. Since there have been so many projects between Turkey and Israel, we let them be discussed on the technical level," he said.
The two countries have had close economic ties since signing a major military cooperation accord in 1996, which angered Arab countries and Iran.
Barak earlier said that his talks would also focus on Iran's controversial nuclear programme, which Israel says is aimed at developing an atomic bomb, a claim denied by Tehran.
The former prime minister and chief of staff said that he would present Turkey's top leadership with Israeli intelligence reports on its arch-foe's nuclear plans.
"It is important to present Turkey with the way we view the Iranian issue and try to convince them of the facts," Barak told reporters on board his plane.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said in Berlin on Tuesday that there was evidence Iran was seeking a bomb, despite a recent US intelligence report that said Tehran had frozen its programme in 2003.
"The Iranians are moving forward with their plans to create a capacity for non-conventional weapons. There is evidence that the plan of the Iranians is not that naive and innocent," Olmert told reporters after talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Israel, an undeclared nuclear power with an estimated arsenal of 200 warheads, considers Iran a threat after its President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called for the Jewish state to be "wiped off the map."
Barak also said that his talks in Ankara would also include Syria, with which peace talks have not been renewed since collapsing in 2000 and which Israel accuses of supplying arms to the Shiite Hezbollah militia in Lebanon.
"Turkey has historic ties in the region and very good ties with Syria today. They are among their closest allies and through our open dialogue (with Turkey) we can hope they will influence them positively," Barak said.
The defence minister will end his two-day visit on Wednesday after meeting chief of staff Yasar Buyukanit and President Abdullah Gul.
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