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EU Reaches Deal on Talks With Turkey
2005-10-03 13:56:39

By ROBERT WIELAARD

The Associated Press

Oct. 3, 2005 - The European Union governments agreed Monday to open membership talks with Turkey after Austria dropped a demand the bloc come to some form of partnership with Ankara that would be less than full-fledged participation, diplomats said.

They said the deal was put to Ankara, amid hopes it will accept it and send Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul to Luxembourg for a ceremony later Monday, formally opening the negotiations.

The Turkish prime minister's spokesman denied reports by CNN-Turk and NTV television that Turkey had agreed to a proposed new document outlining conditions for starting membership talks. "Talks are continuing. There is no agreement yet," said Akif Beki, a spokesman for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. "If the problems are overcome, then the foreign minister will go to Luxembourg."

Gul had delayed his departure from Ankara, insisting his country cannot accept second-class citizen status in the EU.

Austria had been resisting the bid by Turkey, a predominantly Muslim nation, to join the EU and is demanding the EU grant Ankara something short of full membership in case Turkey cannot meet all membership obligations. Opening membership talks requires the unanimous approval of all 25 EU governments.

Diplomats said Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik had relented, accepting language in the negotiating rules that state unambiguously that "the shared objective of the negotiations is (Turkey's) accession."

The diplomats spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks. No specific details were released about the deal, reached after hours of arduous negotiations that began Sunday.

Failure to start the membership talks would be seen as a serious blow to the credibility of the EU, which made Turkey an associate member in 1963 with the prospect of future membership. This year, the bloc saw its proposed constitution collapse when Dutch and French voters rejected it, while a nasty spat between France and Britain over EU funding in June left it without a budget for the 2007-13 period.

In Ankara, Erdogan said he spoke to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who voiced support for Turkey's bid to start membership talks. Erdogan said he maintained "hope until the last minute" that EU leaders would overcome the deadlock.

The issue of EU member Cyprus which Turkey refuses to recognize complicated matters.

A French diplomat said Cyprus demanded stronger language in the negotiating mandate to ensure Turkey does not use international organizations to hinder Cyprus. The diplomat also spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the talks.

In the past, Ankara has vetoed EU-NATO military exercises involving Cyprus, where Turkey props up a renegade Turkish Cypriot state that no other country recognizes.

Cypriot officials denied they sought additional demands.

Turkey belongs to NATO, the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development and the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe. But its shaky human rights and poor economic past have kept it from becoming a full EU member.

In recent years, Turkey has implemented key political and economic reforms, and now wants the EU to make good on its promise to bring it into the bloc.

The EU's 24 other foreign ministers spent eight hours Sunday trying to sway Plassnik to endorse a negotiating mandate for Turkey.

The membership talks for Turkey are expected to last a decade, at least.

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