Erdogan Miffed by France Germany 2005 Suggestion

ISTANBUL (Reuters)–Turkish leader Tayyip Erdogan on Friday rejected a French and German plan to give Turkey a conditional date in 2005 to start European Union membership talks and vowed to press for a firm date in 2003.

Turkey is stepping up pressure on the EU to give it a concrete date to start talks–arguing that anything less would be seen as a dangerous alienation of a country that casts itself as a model of a Muslim democracy.

France said on Thursday it had agreed with Germany that the EU should review Turkey’s progress towards meeting membership criteria in 2004 with a view to opening membership negotiations in July 2005 if Turkey makes the grade.

That falls well short of NATO member Turkey’s demand for a clear date to start talks.

"We do not see that as a suitable date and we will inform the term president (EU president Denmark) and other leaders of that fact," Erdogan said–vowing to press for a much sooner date.

The union meets for a summit in Copenhagen on December 12-13 that is set to wrap up entry talks for 10 candidate countries–including Cyprus–and make a ruling on Turkey’s membership bid.

Diplomats say some EU members are wary of letting in Turkey–an overwhelmingly Muslim nation of more than 65 million people–and are unlikely to go much beyond the Franco-German position.

Turkey’s entry to the EU is tangled up with that of Cyprus–where last-ditch United Nations efforts to reunite the divided island appear unlikely to succeed before the Copenhagen summit.

"Whether or not the EU takes us in–we are meeting the Copenhagen criteria to elevate the living standards of our people. That is our real aim. We won’t stop because they don’t admit us," Erdogan said in a television interview late on Thursday–calling the Franco-German plan "not acceptable."

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