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EU, Turkey Agree on Cyprus Condition
2004-12-17 11:41:39

By RAF CASERT, Associated Press Writer

BRUSSELS, Belgium - European Union (news - web sites) leaders and Turkey agreed Friday on a compromise formula to overcome differences over Turkish recognition of Cyprus' government as a condition for opening EU membership talks, diplomats said.

The diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the agreement called for Turkey to issue a written statement promising to sign an accord extending its customs union to the 10 new EU members, which included Cyprus.

Turkey would sign the accord before the start of EU membership negotiations on Oct. 3. EU officials said that signing the customs accord would grant effective recognition to the Greek Cypriot-led government on the divided island.

There was no official comment from either the EU or the Turkish delegation, but diplomats said a formal announcement was expected later Friday.

The EU had wanted the Turks to initial the accord before the close of the two-day summit Friday and then sign the customs agreement before the start of the talks. But the Turks did not want to be rushed into any form of recognition to Cyprus.

Turkey still has troops protecting the Turkish community in the northern portion of Cyprus 30 years after invading to block a coup by Greek Cypriots who wanted to unite the island with Greece.

Differences over Cyprus have long been a source of irritation between Turkey and Western Europe.

Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul told reporters Thursday that recognition of Cyprus "either directly or indirectly" was "out of the question."

In the draft of a summit statement on membership negotiations, the EU leaders urged Turkey to stay the course on political reforms and push for "zero tolerance" of torture and mistreatment.

Membership talks will be "open-ended," meaning they will not automatically lead to membership, though that is the goal. If the talks fail to lead to full membership, the EU will not turn its back on Turkey and will "anchor Turkey in European structures," according to the draft text.

The draft also makes clear negotiations may be stopped if Turkey backslides and does not push through the economic and political reforms needed to qualify for EU membership.

"The European Union has opened its door to Turkey ... making a balanced offer," Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission (news - web sites), said Thursday. "I genuinely believe this is an offer that Turkey should be glad to accept."

Some people in the EU fear opening the door to a populous, mostly Muslim country would profoundly alter the bloc's European and Christian character at a time when many Europeans are questioning multiculturalism.

Turkey has warned the EU against imposing too many onerous conditions, and many Turks worry membership would threaten their own Muslim traditions.

Even if membership talks begin, it could take 10 to 15 years for Turkey to join.

Admitting Turkey would extend the EU's borders to the frontiers of Syria, Iraq (news - web sites) and Iran, bringing in millions of Muslim citizens at a time when Europeans are uneasy about having so many Muslims within their countries.

That unease is based in part on terrorism fears but also on the feeling that many Muslims reject European values of secularism, women's equality and separation of religion and politics. European concerns remain even though Turkey has been an avowedly secular state since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire after World War I.

Turkey would become the largest EU member since its population is expected to surpass Germany's 83 million people by 2020. That would give Turkey considerable power since voting within the EU is weighted by population.

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