Bush Defies Chirac Says Turkey Merits EU Place

ISTANBUL (Reuters)–George W. Bush said on Tuesday that Turkey belongs in the European Union and that Europe is "not the exclusive club of a single religion." in what amounted to a rejection of French President Jacques Chirac.

In remarks prepared for delivery at an Istanbul university–Bush refused to back down in the face of Chirac’s criticism on Monday that Bush had no business urging the EU to set a date for Turkey to start entry talks into the union.

"America believes that as a European power–Turkey belongs in the European Union," Bush said.

Bush is to use the speech to try to mend relations between Muslims and Americans left tattered relations by the war in Iraq. "We must strengthen the ties and trust and good will between ourselves and the peoples of the Middle East," he said.

Bush held up Turkey as an example of a Muslim democracy and said its entry to the EU would be "a crucial advance in relations between the Muslim world and the West–because you are part of both."

"Including Turkey in the EU would prove that Europe is not the exclusive club of a single religion–and it would expose the ‘clash of civilizations’ as a passing myth of history," Bush said.

Chirac said on Monday that Bush should not comment on Turkey’s EU entry hopes as EU affairs were none of his business.

"If President Bush really said that the way I read it–well–not only did he go too far but he went into a domain which is not his own," Chirac told reporters at the summit.

"It is like me trying to tell the United States how it should manage its relations with Mexico," he added.

Turkey is keen to use the NATO Summit to showcase its credentials as a westward-looking democracy before December–when EU leaders decide if it has met the political criteria to be put on the formal road to EU membership.

Countries such as Germany–Italy and Britain strongly back Ankara’s bid–but Chirac’s government has expressed wariness about kicking off a formal process to admit the relatively poor country of 70 million people.

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