US Backs Ankara on EU Turkey Rushes Laws

ANKARA (Reuters)–Turkish leader Tayyip Erdogan urged EU leaders on Tuesday to give Ankara a date for entry talks when they meet next week and said parliament would rush through rights reforms to demonstrate good faith.

Erdogan spoke as Washington–which will look to Turkey for help in any military action against neighboring Iraq–expressed support to Turkey’s attempts to gain an entry date at the December 12 EU summit in Copenhagen.

Two top US officials as well as the foreign ministers of Britain and Greece–Jack Straw and George Papandreou–were in the Turkish capital on Tuesday.

"We have absolutely no time to waste on doubts," Erdogan told his parliamentary deputies as Turkey approached a week vital to its EU ambitions. "As a parliament and government we have to take rapid decisions and implement them."

Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP)–viewed with suspicion by conservatives for its Islamist roots–took office only last month after a landslide election victory. For the last three weeks–Erdogan has been touring EU capitals pressing national leaders to open the gates to Turkey.

Turkish markets–still vulnerable after two major crises–have risen sharply in recent weeks on hopes Turkey will be given a firm date for the start of membership talks or a provisional date depending on progress in key areas of rights.

The latter–most analysts agree–seems more likely.

Erdogan acknowledged criticism by many EU leaders of Turkey’s human rights record but said his single-party government had the power to change the country that the previous–divided three-party coalition lacked


The cabinet finalized draft bills easing freedom of expression–regulating the conduct of police–reforming court procedures and making it far harder to ban political parties– a fate that has befallen several predecessors of the AKP.

The bills were passed to parliament which set about forming necessary committees that will sit after a four day religious holiday–or Bayram–that begins on Wednesday afternoon.

"I believe parliament–mindful of the priority we have given to democratization–will pass at least one of these packets by December 12. I also believe if the Bayram had not come–we would have completed them all," Erdogan said.

He did not say what specifically might be passed as a priority by December 12. But diplomats in Ankara say the entire package goes a long way to meeting past EU deman’s.

US Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz arrived in Ankara from London with a senior state department official to discuss Turkey’s EU ambitions and the possibility of war in Iraq. The United States has signaled it would like Turkey to be offered a date to begin entry talks.

"Turkey is a key element for building a Europe that is undivided–democratic and free and that helps to bridge the gap between the West and the Muslim world," Wolfowitz said in an address at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London on Monday.

"The decision on EU membership is Europe’s to make–of course. But history suggests that a EU that welcomes Turkey will be even stronger–safer…than it is today. The alternative–exclusionary choice–is surely unthinkable."


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