Chirac’s Arch Rival Sees No Urgent Need for EU Talks with Turkey

PARIS (AFP)–French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy–also head of the ruling party–said Saturday that there was no urgent need for the European Union to open accession talks with Turkey and pushed instead for a partnership with Ankara.

"Is it reasonable to open negotiations with Turkey which is a big nation in Asia Minor–not Europe?" said Sarkozy at a meeting of his party–the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP).

Sarkozy said it would cause less "bitterness" if the EU considered offering Turkey immediately the status of a privileged partner.

"There is no urgent need to engage in negotiations (for EU accession) with Turkey," he said.

The 50-year-old politician–who has made it clear he would like to succeed President Jacques Chirac–said it was time "to rethink our European strategy" and that the first priority was "to fix Europe’s geographic borders."

"I supported the EU enlargement to the east–although it was done without sufficient preparation or explanation," said Sarkozy–adding that concern over EU expansion was one of the issues that contributed to the victory of the "no" campaign in last month’s referendum in France on the EU constitution–which the UMP supported.

Chirac has said he is in favor of the opening of talks with Turkey on October 3 to join the EU–rather than pursuing a partnership status.

Sarkozy also told the UMP meeting that the party would hold a congress early in 2007 to choose its candidate for the presidential election that year.

Besides Chirac–who has not said whether he will seek a third term–Sarkozy’s rivals for the presidential nomination include the country’s new prime minister–Dominique de Villepin.

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