Turkey’s president on Thursday stressed the importance of revitalization of the historic Silk Road, telling it would increase interaction between the East and West. 

Speaking at the 14th Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) Leaders Summit, Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey’s leadership in the revitalization of the historic Silk Road aiming at the Trans-Caspian East-West-Middle Corridor Initiative will increase the interaction between the East and West.

“We welcome this corridor through launching regular flights to China and from China to Turkey,” he said, adding that work on the resumption of Istanbul-Tehran-Islamabad freight train expeditions has reached its final stage.

Underlining the importance of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Erdogan said Turkey supports this initiative on a “win-win” basis. 

China’s BRI is an ambitious program to connect Asia with Africa and Europe via land and maritime networks along six corridors for improving regional integration, boosting trade, and stimulating economic growth.

Erdogan also drew attention to the significance of “strong” regional and global cooperation in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.

He said the “mandatory restrictive measures” were “undoubtedly accurate” for joint trade relations.

The summit was virtually held with the participation of leaders from Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

ECO is a political and economic intergovernmental organization founded in 1985 in Tehran by Iran, Pakistan, and Turkey with a goal of sustainable economic development of member states, and the region as a whole. 

Afghanistan and former Soviet republics also joined the organization in 1992, forming one of the biggest regional blocs in Asia and beyond.

Cyprus issue

The Turkish president called on the ECO members to enhance relations in all areas with Northern Cyprus and support the Turkish Cypriots against the injustices they face.

The island of Cyprus has been divided into the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus in the north and the Greek Cypriot administration in the south since 1974, when a Greek Cypriot coup aimed at Greece’s annexation of the island was followed by violence against the island’s Turks and Ankara’s intervention as a guarantor power.

Sanctions on Iran

On sanctions against Iran, Erdogan noted that all parties must return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and reassume their obligations under the plan.

He said the end of the unilateral sanctions will contribute to the economic prosperity and stability of the region.

During his term, former US President Donald Trump embarked on what he called a “maximum pressure” campaign that included unilaterally withdrawing the US from the 2015 nuclear deal world powers struck with Iran, and imposing biting economic sanctions that have hobbled the Iranian economy. 

In retaliation for the US move to reimpose sanctions, Tehran has taken successive steps away from its agreements under the JCPOA that it maintains are reversible, but vows it will not take such action until Washington lifts the sanctions imposed during the Trump administration. 

ECO 2025 Vision Document

Erdogan also said the implementation of ECO’s 2025 Vision Document is very important in terms of achieving common goals.

“We support the establishment of the Vision Fund to be used in financing the projects envisaged in the document,” he said, adding the reform process to transform the organization into a result-oriented structure must continue.

Turkey’s president also stressed that it “would be beneficial if the ECO Trade Agreement, which could not be implemented for 17 years, comes into force immediately.”

 Regional issues

Emphasizing that Turkey will never approve of anti-democratic interventions that disregard the people’s will, he said Afghanistan has entered a historical turning point of ending conflicts and establishing peace.

On fighting terrorism, he said international cooperation has maintained its importance during the pandemic. Turkey resolutely continues its fight against terror groups including Daesh/ISIS, YPG/PKK, and Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETO), he added.

Regarding recent developments in the region, Erdogan reiterated Turkey’s support for Azerbaijan.

“From now on, our priority is to help establish security and stability in Karabakh to eliminate the damage of the 30-year occupation together,” Erdogan said.

“I believe that we will be in full solidarity with Azerbaijan as an organization [ECO] in this process. We hope that Armenia will be a part of regional stability with the peaceful steps that it will take,” he added.

Relations between the two former Soviet republics have been tense since 1991, when the Armenian military occupied Nagorno-Karabakh, also known as Upper Karabakh, a territory internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, and seven adjacent regions.

When new clashes erupted on Sept. 27 last year, Armenia launched attacks on civilians and Azerbaijani forces, and even violated several humanitarian cease-fire agreements.

During the six week-conflict, which ended with a Russian-brokered truce, Azerbaijan liberated several strategic cities and nearly 300 of its settlements and villages from Armenian occupation.

The two countries signed a Russian-brokered agreement on Nov. 10 to end the fighting and work toward a comprehensive resolution. Before the recent conflict, about 20% of Azerbaijan’s territory had been under illegal Armenian occupation for nearly three decades.

* Contributions by Aysu Bicer from Ankara

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