US urges EU not to rule out Turkish membership

5th December 2006, Comments 0 comments

5 December 2006, Brussels/Berlin (dpa) - A leading US official on Monday warned the European Union against closing the door on Turkish membership of the 25-nation bloc, saying such a move would be a major "strategic miscalculation." US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns told reporters in Brussels that Washington firmly backed Ankara's drive to join the EU. "We see this a strategic decision. Turkey is a European country. Europe cannot be complete without Turkey...we hope that the v

5 December 2006

Brussels/Berlin (dpa) - A leading US official on Monday warned the European Union against closing the door on Turkish membership of the 25-nation bloc, saying such a move would be a major "strategic miscalculation."

US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns told reporters in Brussels that Washington firmly backed Ankara's drive to join the EU.

"We see this a strategic decision. Turkey is a European country. Europe cannot be complete without Turkey...we hope that the various problems between the two can be overcome," Burns said at a meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

The US envoy said the EU's decision last year to open accession talks with Turkey - "a major secular Muslim democracy" - was one of the most important decisions made by Europe at the beginning of the 21st century.

"Closing the door (on Turkey) could be a major strategic miscalculation," Burns warned, adding that building bridges between the West and the Islamic world was a key challenge.

"Turkey is the bridge," he underlined.

Burns' comments came after the European Commission cautioned Germany and France against giving new ultimatums to Turkey over opening its ports to Cypriot vessels, saying experience had shown such deadlines did not work.

With German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Jacques Chirac expected on Tuesday to call for tougher conditions on Turkey's bid to join the European Union, a spokeswoman for EU enlargement chief Olli Rehn said Turkey's relations with Cyprus could only be solved in the context of a comprehensive United Nations deal.

Experience had shown that when it came to Turkey's dealings with Cyprus, "strict deadlines do not produce results," the spokeswoman Krisztina Nagy told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.

"We need to look for a balanced solution," Nagy said. The commission last week called for a partial freeze in Turkey's EU membership talks after Ankara refused EU demands for opening its ports and airports to Greek Cypriot traffic.

But Nagy said the EU must also keep Turkey's accession process alive given the country's "strategic importance" to the EU.

Rehn's comments came after officials in Berlin confirmed that Merkel wanted to make it more difficult for Turkey to resume EU negotiations by imposing a so-called "revision clause."

This would mean that even if Turkey complies with EU demands and opens its harbours and airports to Cyprus there would be no automatic resumption of membership negotiations.

Instead, all of the EU's future 27 members (Bulgaria and Romania are due to join on January 1, 2007) would have to vote unanimously to resume talks with Ankara. Merkel wants such a vote to take place in mid-2008, meaning 18 months of limbo for Ankara's EU talks.

Officials in Berlin say Merkel is keen to keep the Turkish EU membership controversy off the agenda of the German EU presidency during the first half of 2007.

The German leader strongly opposes Turkish EU membership and instead calls for Ankara to be given what she terms a "privileged partnership."

A final decision on action aimed at Turkey is expected at the EU's Brussels summit on December 14 and 15.

France, Greece and Cyprus back Merkel's bid to toughen terms for Turkish EU talks.

But the move is likely to be opposed by Britain and the Nordic countries as well as Italy, Spain and the European Commission, said diplomats in Brussels.

Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi, on a visit to Greece, urged the EU to leave the door open for Turkey's attempt to join the bloc.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair has warned it would be a "serious mistake" to send Turkey a negative message on its bid to join the EU.

Last Wednesday the commission said talks should be frozen on eight Turkish negotiating chapters including transport, trade, agriculture and external relations.

Finland, which holds the current EU presidency, has been struggling for several months to strike a compromise deal allowing free trade through Famagusta in Turkish Cyprus in exchange for a move by Turkey to open its ports and harbours to Greek Cypriot traffic.

Ankara insisted, however, that the EU must first lift its trade embargo on Turkish northern Cyprus, whose government is not recognized by the EU.

Turkey has not established diplomatic ties with the Republic of Cyprus, which became a member of the EU in 2004. Discussions on reuniting the island - divided since 1974 - are under way at the United Nations.

DPA

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