Denmark Says Turkey Not Yet Ready to Open EU Talks

COPENHAGEN (Reuters)–Denmark–which takes over the European Union presidency on July 1–said on Friday Turkey had to press on with political and economic reforms before it could hope to open negotiations on joining the wealthy bloc.

Turkey–a candidate country since 1999–wants the EU to set a date at its Copenhagen summit in December on opening the accession talks–but Denmark is trying to dampen such expectations–saying Ankara still has much work to do.

"To get a start date for accession talks–the Copenhagen criteria must be fulfilled," Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller told reporters.

The Copenhagen criteria–agreed when Denmark last held the EU’s rotating presidency in 1993–stipulate that a country must have an open–democratic political system and fully respect human rights before it can open accession talks.

Turkey is the only one of 13 candidates still barred from opening the negotiations–due to concerns over its human rights record.

"Turkey does not at the moment fulfill these criteria and therefore there is no basis for giving a date for starting accession talks," Moeller said.

The EU wants Ankara to scrap the death penalty–tackle allegations of torture–reduce the role of the army in politics and bolster cultural rights of Turkey’s ethnic Kurdish minority. Complicating Turkey’s troubled relations with the EU is the situation in Cyprus–itself a candidate country which is likely to complete accession talks in December and join in 2004.

Turkey has threatened to annex the breakaway Turkish Cypriot half of the island if Cyprus enters the EU as a divided island. This would inevitably scupper Turkey’s own EU bid.

Danish diplomats are hoping the United Nations will soon broker a settlement between the Turkish Cypriots and the internationally recognized Greek Cypriot government.

The EU wants Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash to accept a federal solution for Cyprus which would guarantee his community broad autonomy within a unitary state. It has also dangled the prospect of generous financial aid if he cuts a deal.

Denktash seeks a looser "confederation" solution. "We hope we will get a result (from the UN-brokered talks) by late November or early December," said one senior EU source.

"We don’t think Denktash wants to become part of Turkey since then he would lose his status (as leader of a separate community). And his own people are very keen to join the EU. If he rejects a deal–what more can they hope to win later."

Speaking in Nicosia on Friday–Denktash said the peace talks–begun in January–would pause next week while the UN special envoy Alvaro de Soto goes to brief the Security Council in New York. They will resume in mid-July–he said.

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