Turkey Sticks to Guns Over EU force

BRUSSELS (Reuters)–Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem ceded no ground to the European Union on Monday in disputes over Cyprus and a new EU common defense policy.

Brussels wants Ankara to put pressure on the Turkish Cypriots to return to UN-mediated talks aimed at resolving the decades-old partition of Cyprus–made more urgent by Nicosia’s fast progressing negotiations for EU membership.

It also wants Turkey to drop its veto on granting the EU’s planned rapid reaction force automatic access to NATO assets for operations where the alliance as a whole is not engaged.

Cem said Ankara was working on a compromise on EU access to NATO assets–although Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel–who met him on Sunday–said he detected "no new elemen’s" in the Turkish position. "We are now trying to work out some modalities which will answer most of the EU’s expectations in a way that does not mean Turkey plays the part of a country not conscious of her interests–which just gives away whatever she has," Cem said.

"Hopefully we will find a way out–but if we don’t it will not be the end of the world for anybody," he added.

NATO member Turkey insists on having a full say in decision-making in the future EU force. The EU says this would be unacceptable for non-member countries like Turkey.

Michel said it was possible that an EU summit in December could declare the first elemen’s of the force operational even without Turkish agreement on access to NATO resources.

"When they (the EU) ask for assets and capabilities which we have contributed so much…of course we want our interests to be looked after," Cem said.

"But this should not hurt our relations with the EU. Turkey believes it is in our interests to be included," he said.

Cem later held talks with European Commissioner for Enlargement Guenter Verheugen on Turkey’s aspirations to join the wealthy 15-nation EU.

Verheugen told Cem that Turkey would need to make substantial reforms of its constitution in order to meet EU accession requiremen’s. He also pressed Cem over Turkey’s alleged human rights abuses–prison reform and curbs on media freedom.

Turkey is one of 13 candidates seeking EU membership but has yet to open accession talks due to the Cyprus issue and the concerns over its human rights record.

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