New European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini was to meet Turkish leaders Monday for talks expected to focus partly on the war against the Islamic State insurgency in neighbouring Syria.
"The Syrian crisis is going to be one of the key issues on her agenda," an EU official told AFP on Monday. Turkey`s EU membership ambitions were also up for discussion.
EU capitals are concerned about spillover from Syria and the possibility of terrorist attacks by the growing number of European nationals returning home after fighting alongside jihadists in Iraq and Syria.
Turkey is under pressure to stem the flow of Islamic State recruits across its borders, which have become a major gateway between Europe and IS controlled territory.
Mogherini, travelling with Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn and Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Christos Stylianides, was to meet President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in Ankara.
Former Italian foreign minister Mogherini, who took up the post of EU diplomatic chief on November 1, was also to visit refugee camps on Turkey`s southern border Tuesday.
"This joint visit, early in the mandate of the new European Commission, demonstrates the importance of Turkey... as a candidate country negotiating accession to the European Union and as a key partner and neighbour considering its strategic location and dynamic economy," the EU said in a statement.
"It is also a clear sign of our willingness and determination to step up engagement across the whole range of the EU-Turkey relationship to fully reflect the strategic importance of our relations."
Turkey, a regional Sunni Muslim power, has barely made progress in membership negotiations with the EU since they formally opened in 2005.
Talks have stalled due to several stumbling blocks including a territorial dispute with member Cyprus and opposition from heavyweights France and Germany.
Ankara has also drawn the ire of Brussels over its human rights record, while some EU states have reservations about granting membership to such a large Muslim country.
The visit comes just one week after Russian President Vladimir Putin`s trip to Turkey when Moscow announced the cancellation of the multi-billion-dollar South Stream project, saying instead that Russia would work with Ankara on a new gas hub.
Turkey is also facing pressure from Brussels to join sanctions imposed on Russia for its role in the Ukraine crisis.