ISTANBUL (AFP) -The leaders of a dozen nations in the Black Sea region, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, pledged here yesterday to increase cooperation in energy and trade. A joint declaration issued at the end of the summit of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC) Organization acknowledged that political problems between member states were hindering economic exchange in the oil-rich region and called for their peaceful settlement. The member countries were ready «to deepen cooperation in the area of energy… and cooperate with the European Union and other international partners to ensure fair access to energy resources and markets on a mutual basis for all interested countries,» the statement said. The region the BSEC covers is the world’s second-largest source of oil and natural gas after the Gulf and is a major transit corridor for energy supplies bound for Europe. Speaking at the meeting, Putin, whose country has been accused of using its oil and gas riches as a political weapon, called for «strengthening the stability of the energy markets of the Black Sea, also by expanding the practice of long-term contracts.» He said Russia favored «the diversification of energy supply routes, the creation of new insurance schemes and the share of financial risk between partners through the exchange of shares.» The BSEC, which celebrated its 15th anniversary yesterday, comprises the Black Sea littoral states – Bulgaria, Georgia, Romania, Russia, Turkey and Ukraine – as well as Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Greece, Moldova and Serbia. The members pledged to speed up work on upgrading transport infrastructure, including a projected 7,500-kilometer (4,660-mile) ring road along the Black Sea coast and regular maritime links between their ports, with the aim of boosting tourism and trade. Removing trade barriers was another priority, and they also called for closer cooperation with the European Union and for the «earliest» settlement of political tensions and territorial conflicts between member states. «Political conflicts constitute an important hurdle in the way of economic cooperation and development,» Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said at a lunch he hosted at the summit. «We have to make efforts to find a solution to political problems by ourselves within the region,» he added. Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul held a rare bilateral meeting with Vartan Oskanian, his counterpart from arch-foe Armenia, with which Turkey has no diplomatic ties. Armenia was the only country to be represented by a foreign minister. All other nations sent presidents or prime ministers. Oskanian urged Turkey to open the border between the two countries, saying that such a move would help build confidence. «If you are serious about dialogue, please open the border first,» Oskanian said. Turkey dealt a heavy economic blow to impoverished Armenia in 1993 as it shut the border between the two countries in a show of solidarity with its close ally Azerbaijan, which was at war with Armenia over the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. Ankara also refuses to establish diplomatic relations with Yerevan because of Armenia’s international campaign to have the mass killings of Armenians under the Ottoman Empire in the early 20th century recognized as genocide. The Turkish police stepped up security measures ahead of the summit, and five people, among them Chechens, suspected of having links with the al-Qaida network were arrested in Istanbul on Sunday. The BSEC was established in 1992 to promote stability and economic ties between nations that belonged to opposite camps during the Cold War. It covers nearly 20 million square kilometers (7.7 million square miles) with a population of 350 million people. Member states have a total foreign trade volume of $300 billion (-223.5 billion) a year.