Israel’s Barak praises Turkey defense links

ANKARA (Reuters)–Israel held up its relationship with Moslem Turkey on Monday as a model for co-operation in the region–proposing increased commerce and trade in defense equipment and water.

Prime Minister Ehud Barak said after talks with Turkish counterpart Bulent Ecevit a delegation would visit soon to investigate further the possibility of buying water supplied by Turkey’s Manavgat river.

Barak was met at the airport by Defense Minister Sabahattin Cakmakoglu–emphasizing the importance and sensitivity of military co-operation between the two countries. Ecevit then received Barak at his offices with military honors.

The Israeli PM said defense cooperation between the two countries provided a pattern for other regional alliances.

“There are many projects on the table and we are moving forward on sharing power and high tech infrastructure with other neighbors who are friendly,” Barak said at a press conference before returning to Israel.

“Leading Israeli groups are digging for contracts in Turkey,” he said in an earlier statement after meeting Ecevit. “Our defense industry is working to get contracts in Turkey… We are looking forward to exchange and deployment of technologies and know-how to sister industries in Turkey. “At the same time–we pushed forward the peace process.”

Neither made any specific reference to contracts for the upgrading of US M60 main battle tanks or for the sale of Israeli military intelligence satellites to Turkey. Israel has been hoping to win these deals but the outcome seems uncertain.

Israeli deputy defense minister Ephraim Sneh had told journalists the contracts would be high on the agenda of talks–alongside a $4 billion Turkish attack helicopter tender.

Turkey looks likely to choose a US firm but has kept a rival Russian-Israeli consortium on the shortlist for the bidding–should Congress refuse export and technology transfer licenses.

Barak’s visit comes after European tours by senior Israeli officials designed to win support for their position in peace talks with the Palestinians.

Ankara maintains close relations with both Israel and the Palestinians. Turkey’s foreign minister recently visited Palestinian President Yasser Arafat.

“Turkey’s contribution is not just to the relationship between Israel and Turkey but to understanding in the whole region. An example can be taken from our very cordial relationship,” Barak said.

“Turkey has a long tradition of enjoying the trust of the Palestinians but recently it has gained our trust as well,” he said.

Turkey is also negotiating with Israel to sell fresh water from its southern rivers. Neither Barak nor Ecevit gave any indication that a final decision was close on the sale.

But Barak made it clear Israel would bargain hard on the terms of any such water deal.

“We have a major problem of water supply … (We are) trying to solve this problem through efforts of desalinization and the possibility of moving water from distant places.

“Somehow it’s competition of prices that we have to evaluate. In each case–the projects are in the works.”

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