PRAGUE (Reuters) – European Union leaders told Turkey on Friday it should cooperate quickly on Cyprus and European defense if it wants to win a date next month for starting talks on joining the bloc.
French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder–at separate news conferences after a NATO summit–said progress towards a political settlement on Cyprus would improve Ankara’s chances of a positive answer from EU leaders when they meet in Copenhagen on December 12-13.
Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen–whose country holds the EU presidency–said after talks with Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer the EU was split on how to respond to Ankara’s request for a date for accession negotiations.
"Honestly speaking–opinions differ among member states–and now it is the challenging task of the Danish presidency to find the right balance," Rasmussen said.
Asked what Turkey could do ahead of the crucial EU enlargement summit–he said: "Of course there is an overall climate which might be influenced by progress as far as Cyprus is concerned–and progress as far as ESDP is concerned."
ESDP is the EU’s security and defense policy–which has been stalled for two years by a dispute involving Turkey and Greece over EU access to NATO military planning and assets for crisis management missions.
TURKEY REJECTS LINK
Sezer rejected any linkage between Turkey’s candidacy and the Cyprus and European defense issues–telling reporters his country should be granted a date on its merits because it had taken steps to meet the EU’s political criteria.
He insisted there was no time before the summit to reach an outline settlement on the division of Cyprus–based on a United Nations peace plan put forward this month.
Intensive consultations on the EU-Turkey issue dominated the sidelines of a NATO summit in Prague–with Sezer seeking support from key EU leaders and US President George W. Bush for Ankara’s ambitions.
"The British–Spanish and Italian prime ministers expressed their full support for extending a date to Turkey," Sezer said after private meetings with Tony Blair–Jose Maria Aznar and Silvio Berlusconi.
But he also said when he objected to linkage with the Cyprus question: "None of the leaders gave me a concrete answer. I fail to understand how this issue (Cyprus) can be made a condition for Turkey receiving a date."
Rasmussen stressed EU leaders were prepared to conclude accession talks with only the Greek Cypriot south of Cyprus if a political solution reuniting the east Mediterranean island was not forthcoming.
Turkey invaded northern Cyprus in 1974 in response to a pro-Greek coup engineered by the ruling military junta in Athens and has kept 30,000 troops on the island ever since.
Chirac appeared to question whether the EU would admit Cyprus without a settlement–telling a news conference: "It is obvious that we cannot import conflicts into the European Union–that conflicts must be settled before entering the EU."
He strongly rebutted recent commen’s by former French President Valery Giscard d’Estaing that Turkey was not European and its accession would spell “the end of the European Union.”
"For my part–I consider Turkey is fully entitled to a place in Europe. Maybe it can be disputed strictly geographically–but I don’t believe it can really be disputed historically or in terms of civilization," Chirac said.
It was in the EU’s political and economic interest to take in Turkey once it fully met the bloc’s so-called Copenhagen criteria on democracy and human rights–he added.