"IT’S CERTAINLY NOT UP TO THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES TO INTERFERE IN SOMETHING SO IMPORTANT AND WHICH MAINLY CONCERNS EUROPEANS."
COPENHAGEN (Reuters/The Guardian)–Turkey grudgingly agreed to wait two years before the European Union considers its bid to join and pledged at a historic EU summit on Friday to work hard to meet the wealthy blocs strict standards for human rights.
Turkish leader Tayyip Erdogan–swallowing his disappointment that the EU did not grant Ankara a date for entry talks in 2003–said: "We will do our utmost to start the negotiations in 2004."
Hoping to be the first Muslim nation to join–Turkey is not likely to open negotiations until at least early 2005–diplomats said. The EU agreed to review its candidacy in December 2004.
The Turkey decision–reached by EU leaders over dinner on Thursday–sparked charges of discrimination from Turkish Prime Minister Abdullah Gul–who accused French President Jacques Chirac of blackmail and turning other Europeans against Ankara. The summit was otherwise due to seal the expansion of the 15-nation EU into once communist eastern Europe–healing the Cold War divide. As it entered the final hours in Copenhagen–Poland seemed ever more isolated in holding out for more money.
The surprisingly negative decision ignored intense US and British pressure to agree a date for Turkey to launch entry talks. It will be seen as a humiliating snub to the new reformist government in Ankara.
With President Bush–backed by Tony Blair–eager to keep Turkey onside as a key player in its Iraqi strategy–Downing Street hoped a date in 2004 could have been agreed at last night’s opening dinner.
Instead the deal–announced after midnight–reflected only a minor six-month concession by France and Germany–which had voiced most concern about the accession of a 68 million-strong Muslim nation.
Rasmussen insisted Turkey will still have to meet stringent EU human rights criteria before starting talks.
Nicole Fontaine–the French industry minister said: "It’s certainly not up to the president of the United States to interfere in something so important and which mainly concerns Europeans."
In a setback on Cyprus–one of the other nine membership candidates racing to complete talks on joining the EU in 2004–Greek and Turkish Cypriot negotiators failed to clinch a peace deal to end 27 years of division of the Mediterranean island.
Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash accused the Union of trying to build a "Christian fortress" around Muslim Turkey.
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder declared a breakthrough in final accession talks with Poland–largest of the mostly ex-communist applicants. But Polish officials were cautious.
Apparently angered by reports of criticism by Chirac of Turkish negotiating tactics–Gul was quoted as saying: "The real blackmail is what Chirac has done. I am very disappointed that Chirac has influenced and directed the meeting."
After talks with Chirac and Schroeder–he sounded a gentler note–saying Turkey would "prove if it joins the EU that a Muslim country can be democratic and comfortable with the modern world. I think the European leaders are not ignoring this."
To sweeten the pill–the 15 member states and 10 leading candidates due to join on May 1–2004 were set to initial a joint declaration endorsing Turkey’s accession process.
Turkey is worried that Cyprus or another newcomer might block its path to a club it has tried to join since the 1960s.
Greek Cypriot Attorney General Alecos Markides said the United Nations mediator Alvaro de Soto had advised him it would be impossible to reach a deal at Friday’s summit to end the division of Cyprus. It followed a 1974 Turkish invasion triggered by a Greek-inspired coup in Nicosia.
Denktash–veteran leader of the breakaway Turkish Cypriot statelet which only Turkey recognizes–told reporters after leaving an Ankara hospital: "The European Union’s interest is to delay Turkey and to take Cyprus–to possess Cyprus and to build something like a Christian fortress around Turkey."
Turkish EU membership arouses deep passions in Europe–with many voters concerned about letting a mainly Muslim state with a large and rapidly growing population and borders with Iran–Iraq and Syria–into the predominantly Christian EU club.