Riyadh: The foreign ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) held a meeting in Jeddah last night with Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan on the sidelines of their 108th Ministerial Council session.

During the meeting the ministers declared Turkey a strategic partner of the GCC and signed a memorandum of understanding.

Turkey has become the first country outside the Gulf to be given the status of strategic partner of the GCC.

The memorandum of understanding was signed by the Turkish foreign minister and Qatari Prime Minister Shaikh Hamad Bin Jasem Bin Jabr Al Thani, who is current chairman of the GCC Ministerial Council, and GCC Secretary General Abdul Rahman Al Attiyah.

In a press conference on Tuesday, the Qatari premier said: "The signing of the memo is a step on the way to strategic relations and it is vital for both the GCC countries and Turkey."

He said the Turkish GCC accord has nothing to do with the balance of power in the region and expressed the hope that they would be able to sign a similar memo of understanding with Iran.

Annual meetings

"The cooperation with Turkey is important and we hope to come to the signing of such a memorandum with Iran," he said.

Babacan called for political, economic, military and security cooperation with the GCC countries and proposed the holding of an annual meeting with the foreign ministers of the two sides.

"Turkey believes that institutionalising our relations with the council will serve our common interests and open new horizons for our cooperation," he said.

He also underlined the importance Turkey attached to the stability and security of the Gulf countries.

"Today, there is a belt of crises in the Middle East, and it is unfortunately in an area between Turkey in the north and the Gulf in the south," he said.

The minister said that the location of Turkey and the Gulf countries could help provide a solution to the crises and contribute to regional stability.

Babacan said he wished to sign a free trade agreement with the council as soon as possible, and expressed his expectation from the member states to make greater investments in Turkey.

The GCC ministers discussed a number of other issues, including the Iranian occupation of three UAE islands, the Palestinian cause and the means of supporting the GCC march in all areas as well as adopting nuclear technology for peaceful purposes, in addition to strategic dialogue between the GCC countries and China.

The ministers condemned Iran's establishment of two administrative offices on Abu Mousa island, which is part of the UAE, and demanded that Iran remove the illegal installations and respect UAE sovereignty on its lands.