As we leave behind the last year of the first decade of the 21st Century, I am glad to pay my first official visit to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in my capacity as the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Turkey.
Saudi Arabia is one of the key countries in the region, whose political and economic weight is of significance not only in terms of influencing regional developments, but also in tackling issues of global dimensions. As such, we have come to appreciate the constructive role that the Kingdom is playing for the achievement of peace, security and prosperity in the Middle East and beyond. We also commend the important reforms that have been carried out in the fields of politics, economy, education, health, social services and culture under the wise and visionary leadership of His Majesty King Abdullah, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques.
Turkish-Saudi relations are based on a genuine friendship and fraternity between our peoples. We enjoy deep-rooted cultural and historical ties. We share the same religion and geography. Both countries have a vested interest in the preservation of peace, security and stability in the region.
I am pleased to note that Turkish-Saudi relations continue to develop in various fields in an accelerated manner. Official contacts and visits at the highest levels on a mutual basis, which have gained frequency over time, played an important role in this trend. Actually, the visit to Turkey of His Majesty King Abdullah in 2006 as the first of its kind in 40 years constituted a milestone in our relations. These relations were given a new momentum by the reciprocal visit of President Abdullah Gül of Turkey to Saudi Arabia in February 2009. Frequent visits at the ministerial level paved the way for enhancement and diversification of our cooperation.
This upward trend in our political relations has also been translated into concrete results in the economic and commercial realm. In two years time, our trade volume has increased from 3.3 billion Dollars in 2006 to 5.5 Dollars in 2008. We wish to raise this figure above 10 billion Dollars in several years. Recent years have also witnessed a remarkable increase in the volume of mutual investments. We hope to give an added impetus to our economic relations after the conclusion of the Free Trade Agreement which we have been negotiating with the Gulf Cooperation Council.
We are happy to observe that contacts between our peoples are also intensifying in parallel with the developments in other fields. The number of Saudi tourists visiting Turkey is steadily increasing, whereas tens of thousands Turkish pilgrims visit Saudi Arabia every year. Moreover, there are approximately one hundred thousand Turkish citizens living and working in Saudi Arabia. They constitute a firm and durable bridge of friendship between the two countries.
We are also keen on strengthening our contacts and cooperation in the cultural field. In this respect, organization of mutual culture weeks and conduct of collective studies on our common cultural heritage are being encouraged.
Convergence and coherence characterize the foreign policies of the two countries towards the region. There is mutual confidence between the two countries that have resulted in increased cooperation and coordination while tackling regional issues. As such, we both try to contribute to regional efforts to help resume the peace process in the Arab-Israeli conflict on all its tracks, to promote reconciliation between the Palestinian factions, to address the plight of the Palestinian people in Gaza, to promote stability in such countries as Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Yemen and Sudan.
Turkey and Saudi Arabia are also closely cooperating within international forums such as the United Nations, the Organization of Islamic Conference, the League of Arab Nations and the Gulf Cooperation Council. Actually, the strategic consultation mechanism that has been established between Turkey and the Gulf Cooperation Council is the first such mechanism that the GCC has ever set up with a nation state.
In conclusion, while conveying my best wishes for the new year to the Saudi people and to our own citizens living in this brotherly country, I would like to express my belief that the times ahead will open up new vistas for our countries to forge a strengthened partnership that would serve the best interests of our two peoples and those of the region as a whole.
*Ahmet Davutoglu is the Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs