United by common aim - EU membership, Turkey and Serbia-Montenegro become closer politically and economically

Turkey and Serbia-Montenegro on Wednesday pledged closer political and economic cooperation as both countries strive to become members of the European Union. "Serbia-Montenegro and Turkey are ready to strengthen their political and economic partnership, especially in view of the latest EU decisions" to start negotiations on possible future membership for the two Balkan states, said a statement after talks between Turkey and Serbia-Montenegro.

Earlier this month, Turkey opened membership talks with the EU while Serbia-Montenegro launched negotiations for closer ties with the 25-nation bloc, a step toward eventual membership.

Gul and Marovic said in the statement that "the enhanced association of the Balkan states with the EU institutions is a precondition for overall stability" of the still-volatile southeastern European region.

Gul arrived in Belgrade late Tuesday following a visit to Serbia's southern Kosovo province, which has been run by the United Nations and NATO since 1999.

After arriving late Tuesday, Gul met with Boris Tadic, the president of Serbia, the larger republic in the union. Gul and Tadic discussed the situation in Kosovo, EU integration and other topics.

Kosovo also has a sizable Turkish community and 350 Turkish troops serving there as peacekeepers.

Tadic said late Tuesday after his meeting with Gul that Kosovo should remain part of Serbia-Montenegro. He also called for protection of all minorities in the tense province.

Kosovo's majority ethnic Albanians want independence while Serbia wishes to retain at least formal control over its southern region.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan recommended last week that talks on Kosovo's future status start later this year. The U.N. Security Council is likely to discuss Kosovo on Oct. 24, and talks could start as early as next month.


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