Erdoğan pledges to break down boundaries in mideast
Turkey will further strengthen ties with its Mideast neighbors, but not at the expense of its European Union aspirations, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan pledged on Saturday, saying his government will continue to take steps toward EU entry. "The Justice and Development Party [AK Party] considers the goal of full EU membership a strategic objective," Erdogan said at an event to release the AK Party's election manifesto for polls this June. "The steps we have taken in this direction have initiated a new era in Turkey's EU membership process." He added, "We will remove the artificial boundaries and false walls between Turkey and the people of the Middle East." In recent years Turkey has signed deals for visa-free regimes with Syria, Lebanon and Iran, and efforts are underway to create a free trade zone among Turkey, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. Erdogan has also announced plans to create a visa-free region with Iraq, Syria and Iran similar to the EU's Schengen zone.