Turkey Warns EU Against ‘Historic Mistake’ On Its Membership Bid

ANKARA (AFP) – Turkey has urged EU leaders to avoid "a historic mistake" when they make a critical decision on Anakara’s membership bid next week, as it lobbied for the backing of a reluctant Germany and a more supportive Sweden. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan appealed to the European Union Tuesday to avoid "putting obstacles on Turkey’s road and trying to push it away" from accession negotiations a little more than a year after they began in October 2005. He said he telephoned German Chancellor Angela Merkel hours before she was to meet French President Jacques Chirac to seek his backing for a German proposal to set a strict deadline for Turkey to grant trade privileges to Cyprus, the core issue in the current turmoil. "I reminded her what the costs of a wrong step could be," Erdogan told the parliamentary group of his Justice and Development Party. "I told her that we hope such a historic mistake will not occur at the summit of EU leaders on December 14-15," he said. Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said the German proposal "would make things even worse," but played down its chances of winning support from all 25 bloc members. Merkel wants the EU to give Turkey an 18-month deadline to comply with its obligations concerning Cyprus as a condition for resuming full membership talks. EU foreign ministers meet in Brussels on December 11 to discuss a European Commission recommendation to partially freeze the accession talks because of Turkey’s refusal to open its sea and air ports to Cypriot vessels under a customs union pact with the bloc. If they fail to reach a unanimous decision, which experts agree is likely, the issue is expected to go on the agenda of an EU summit three days later. Turkey says its ports will remain closed to Cyprus unless the EU keeps promises made in 2004 to ease the economic isolation of the divided island’s breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, recognized only by Ankara. "The EU must show it is serious about Turkey’s membership and deliver on its promises," Erdogan said. He described the mainly Muslim country’s accession bid as "one of the most important projects of the century," aiming to bring East and West closer, and called on EU leaders to "not lose their global vision." Ankara’s appeal was echoed by visiting Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, whose country, along with Britain, argues that Turkey should not be estranged. Speaking to reporters after talks with Gul, Bildt underscored the need to retain "the strategic perspective" for Turkey and the European Union. Turkey, he said, is situated in "a far more volatile, strategic region" and has an influence on "the stability of the world that is adjacent to Europe." Bildt agreed that Turkey had failed to fulfill its obligations on Cyprus, but said the EU too had failed to keep its promises to the Turkish Cypriots. He warned that even if the current dispute is solved, the Cyprus conflict will continue to haunt Turkey-EU ties unless a political settlement is found to end the island’s 32-year partition. "That is really a political imperative for the EU, although it is the responsibility of the United Nations," he said. The most recent peace plan for Cyprus failed in April 2004, when the Greek Cypriots voted down a UN-drafted blueprint for reunification, even though the Turkish Cypriots gave it overwhelming support.

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