British PM heading to Turkey for first official visit

25th July 2010, Comments 0 comments

British Prime Minister David Cameron pays his first visit to Turkey this week since taking power, with talks expected to focus on its troubled bid to join the European Union.

Cameron will meet his counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan during the visit on Monday and Tuesday, when he is expected to be accompanied by Foreign Secretary William Hague.

Cameron's coalition government took power in May and has vowed to shake up Britain's foreign policy to build better links with rising G20 powers like Turkey.

Earlier this month, Hague vowed to make a "particular diplomatic effort to work with Turkey", citing its role as a regional power in the Middle East, central Asia and the western Balkans.

"Turkey is Europe's biggest emerging economy and a good example of a country developing a new role and new links for itself, partly on top of and partly outside of existing structures and alliances," he said.

Britain has long been a supporter of Ankara's bid to join the EU -- during a state visit in 2008, Queen Elizabeth II said Turkey was "uniquely positioned as a bridge between East and West at a crucial time for the European Union and the world in general".

But the bid has stalled in the face of opposition from France and Germany, plus a row over Cyprus.

Accession talks have been partly frozen over its refusal to open its ports to the island's internationally recognized Greek Cypriot government -- a state it does not acknowledge -- under a trade pact with the EU.

The war in Afghanistan is also likely to be discussed during the visit, which comes days after the Kabul conference brought together international politicians and diplomats hosted by President Hamid Karzai.

NATO member Turkey, which has some 1,795 troops in Afghanistan, has been pushing Afghanistan and Pakistan to cooperate against Islamic extremists.

Britain is the second-largest troop contributor to the international force in Afghanistan behind the United States, with around 10,000 personnel there.

But Cameron has said he wants combat troops home by 2015 and indicated that a pull-out could start as early as next year.

Details of the trip have been confirmed by Ankara, though Downing Street has not made them public.

© 2010 AFP

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