ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkey's president said Monday that membership in the European Union is one of Turkey's strategic goals and hopes visa-free travel will bring the country closer to achieving that.
"We believe that EU membership, which is one of Turkey's strategic goals, will be a source of inspiration and stability for the region," said Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The remarks come two days after the Turkish leader said his country would not modify its anti-terror legislation, a condition set by the European Union for Turkish citizens to benefit from visa-free travel to EU countries in a tough speech that raised concerns over the fate of EU-Turkey relations.
On Saturday, Erdogan boasted that he defied "the whole world," and accused European countries of double standards. "Those who criticize us because of our struggle against terrorism, shelve democracy and freedoms when the bombs explode on their own territories," Erdogan said.
In a written statement Monday, issued on the occasion of Europe Day, Erdogan expressed hope that a visa-liberalization agreement between the EU and Turkey would contribute toward speeding up Turkey's drive to join the EU and that kept promises would "somewhat alleviate the weariness that comes with waiting at the EU's doorstep for over 50 years."
As part of an agreement in which Turkey will help halt the flood of migrants and refugees from the Middle East, the European Union asked the nations in the bloc to allow Turkish citizens to travel to Europe without visas on short stays. In exchange, the EU wants Turkey to meet certain conditions, among them a revision of its harsh anti-terrorism laws.
Erdogan, however, advocates a broader definition of terrorism at a time when the country faces the twin threats of renewed conflict with Kurdish militants in the southeast and growing blowback from Syria and Iraq in the form of bombings and other attacks by the Islamic State group.
The resignation last week of Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who had better ties with the EU and played a pivotal role on the migrant and visa-liberalization deal, coupled with Erdogan's speech threw into question whether such agreements will move forward as planned.