By Diyar Guldogan
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday hailed Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev's official visit to Turkey -- the first by a top Uzbek leader in decades.
"This is the first visit at the presidential level in 20 years. Therefore, it is highly significant and meaningful for us," Erdogan told a news conference with Mirziyoyev at the presidential complex in the capital Ankara.
Mirziyoyev, 60, became Uzbekistan's leader last December after the passing of his predecessor, Islam Karimov, after 27 years in office.
Erdogan called his meeting with Mirziyoyev "very productive," adding that they tackled such issues as the economy, tourism, health, and culture.
"We see that our economic and trade relations fall short of the desired level," Erdogan said, adding that last year bilateral trade totaled about $1.2 billion.
"We exceeded $900 million in the first eight months of this year. Hopefully, we will increase these figures in short order," he added.
Erdogan also announced that Turkish Airlines will launch scheduled service between Istanbul and the ancient Silk Route oasis of Samarkand starting March 16.
'Historic' upgrading of ties
Also addressing the news conference, Mirziyoyev also said bilateral ties were discussed "deeply".
On Turkey and Uzbekistan signing a joint declaration to upgrade ties to the "comprehensive and strategic" level, he called the pact "a historic event."
Mirziyoyev also said that ahead of his visit to Turkey, he signed a decree simplifying visa procedures for Turkish citizens and ordering that business visas be issued within three days. He added that there should be no need for visas between "brotherly" countries.
He called Turkey a "dependable" country for Tashkent in the international community.
The Turkish-Uzbek Business Forum, where a number of agreements are expected to be signed between the two countries, will be held on Thursday in Istanbul.