Turkey wants to help turn the war-ravaged Balkans into a region of cooperation with a joint future in the European Union and NATO, the Turkish president said Tuesday, as part of his country's increased involvement in the region where it has historic influence.
"It is our desire to have the whole region united under a wider umbrella of the European Union and NATO," Abdullah Gul said after talks with Serbia's President Boris Tadic and the three members of Bosnia's multiethnic presidency.
"We believe that the Balkans is not at the end of Europe, but that it is the heart of Europe," Gul said. "We want to ... strengthen cooperation and move jointly toward solving burning issues."
The talks at the Karadjordjevo residency near the border with Croatia came a year after Turkey hosted a similar summit in Istanbul, aimed at bringing former Balkan foes Serbia and Bosnia closer together.
Turkey's diplomatic initiative illustrates its bid to renew its influence in the Balkans stemming from centuries-long Ottoman rule and close ties with the region's Muslims.
"Turkey has its historic reasons and ... legitimate interests for its presence in the Balkans," Serbia's president Tadic said. "We want the entire region to be integrated into the European Union as soon as possible ... this is our main political goal."
Tadic pledged to put the past behind and "create a better future" for the region that was in the 1990s engulfed in the bloodiest conflict in Europe since World War II.
Tadic did not elaborate on Gul's proposed NATO ties. The issue is sensitive among the Serbs because of the Western military alliance's 1999 bombing of Serbia that ended Belgrade's rule over Kosovo, Serbia's former province.
The war in Bosnia ended in 1995 in a U.S.-brokered peace plan that divided the country into two entities, a Serb and a Muslim-Croat one.
Bosnia's inability to create a centralized government has stalled its efforts toward EU membership, while Serbia has recently made some progress after its EU bid had been blocked over failure to arrest war crimes suspects sought by a U.N. court.
Memories of the war past also have been rekindled with the choice of the Karadjordjevo hunting lodge where former Serbian and Croatian nationalist leaders _ Serbia's Slobodan Milosevic and Croatia's Franjo Tudjman _ reportedly negotiated carving up Bosnia in the early 1990s', fueling the war there.
Tadic argued that "some good decisions also were made here" during the era of the former Yugoslavia, when Karadjordjevo was often used by former communist leader Josip Broz Tito.
Tadic said the choice of the venue only strengthens the message of reconciliation.
"I will never repeat the mistakes of my predecessors, made even here in Karadjordjevo," Tadic said. "It is our intention ... to turn the places of our joint history, which remind us of bad past experience, into the places of good decisions."
Zeljko Komsic, Croat member of Bosnia's three-member presidency, said: "We have dealt with the vampires of our past and there is hope now for new relations in the region."