Ankara Supports Israel Drive to Join OECD, Says Def. Min.

Despite the strain in relations with Israel lately, Ankara is supporting Israel's drive to join the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development.

Turkey also wants to expand its free-trade agreement with Israel. Trade between the two countries is far from its potential, said Turkish Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul yesterday, at the start of talks at the joint Turkey-Israel economic convention, attended among others by Israel's infrastructures minister, Benjamin Ben-Eliezer.

Turkey also wants to sign a transportation agreement with Israel and step up cooperation between the seaports of the two countries, the minister said.

The announcement of Turkey's support for Israel becoming a member of the OECD was made at the end of the joint conference.

Moreover, Turkey wants more involvement by its companies in Israeli infrastructure projects, Gonul said. Until now they've been involved in only half a billion dollars' worth of projects in Israel, he said.

Despite the difficulties that have arisen in supplying Israeli drones - made by the Israel Aerospace Industries and Elbit Systems - to the Turkish defense forces, Gonul said he sees room to expand cooperation in that area as well.

Turkey wants to exercise mutual Israeli procurement commitments, he explained, which again leads to Turkish companies carrying out jobs in Israel. Also, Israeli and Turkish companies could cooperate on work in third-party countries, Gonul said.

He also advocated the establishment of joint Israeli-Palestinian industrial zones, in which Turkish companies could also have a presence.

Ben-Eliezer suggested more cooperation in high-tech and renewable energy, and added that Israel's very first private power station is being erected by a partnership of Israeli and Turkish ventures.

"The task of the governments is to help the business sector," Ben-Eliezer said.

Turkey and Israel will also step up cooperation on banking and finances, officials said after the conference.