US Intervenes in EU-Turkey Dispute

WASHINGTON (Euro Observer)–The United States has waded into the debate on the fate of Turkey’s EU accession talks, questioning an EU deadline for Ankara to lift a blockade on Cypriot trade while proposing to continue the talks in any case. UK daily The Guardian quoted a senior US diplomat as saying that the EU never put a clear-cut deadline on Turkey to open its ports and airports to trade from Cyprus, when the bloc opened formal membership talks with Ankara on 3 October last year. Washington’s intervention comes just as the EU is discussing a partial or full suspension of the talks over Turkey’s continuing refusal to meet the EU’s demand to open up to Cypriot shipping, with both the Finnish EU presidency and the European Commission saying Ankara has to give in before EU leaders meet to discuss the issue on 14-15 December. Matthew Bryza, the US deputy assistant secretary of state for Europe, said however "It is a factual observation, not an analytical one, that the language of October 3 was not specific about deadlines."The language is ambiguous and intentionally ambiguous so that the political process can take place [and] member states can take whatever decision they want," he said according to The Guardian. The US diplomat appeared to be referring to a EU statement adopted just before the start of Ankara’s membership talks dated 21 September 2005, in which the EU urged Ankara to implement the so-called Ankara protocol on customs for all EU member states including Cyprus. "Turkey must apply the protocol fully to all EU member states," the statement said not explicitly setting out a deadline for Ankara to meet this demand but stating, "the EU will monitor this closely and evaluate full implementation in 2006." Byrza’s call on the EU to take a relaxed view on the deman’s it put on Turkey follows a series of previous interventions by Washington in EU-Turkey relations, demonstrated last year by US diplomatic efforts to avert a last-minute canceling of the historic opening of the EU-Turkey talks. President George W. Bush said last month that "it’s in the United States’ interests that Turkey join the European Union," with Washington viewing Ankara as a key NATO ally and a moderate Islamic country which should be further tied to the west. Now that Turkey’s EU talks risk being suspended, Washington has started new initiatives with US diplomats already over the summer mooting proposals to avert a "train crash" of the talks over the Cyprus issue. Bryza also suggested that even if the EU wants to sanction Turkey over non-compliance with the Ankara protocol, it could do so by relatively soft sanctions, which would ensure the entry, negotiations keep on track. Referring to the 35-chapter negotiating book that Ankara needs to close before accession, he said "Maybe one option would be not closing rather than not opening [chapters]." The remark contrasts with calls by some EU capitals – particularly Nicosia, Vienna and Paris – to suspend the opening of further negotiating chapters, with discussions ongoing on whether only customs-related or all negotiating chapters should be put on hold.

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