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EU, Turkey hover on brink of talks deal

October 3, 2005

By Marie-Louise Moller and Paul Taylor

LUXEMBOURG (Reuters) – Turkey and the European Union
hovered on the brink of a historic agreement to launch
membership talks on Monday as Ankara studied EU proposals
hammered out in a tense day of talks amid Austrian resistance.

The opening ceremony was delayed for hours as wrangling
over Austrian and Turkish objections to a talks framework text
dragged into the second day at an EU foreign ministers’
meeting.

“It depends now on Ankara, if they can agree the text. It
is within reach,” a senior EU diplomat said after Austria
signaled it was ready to lift its reservations.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said earlier that the
25-nation bloc was “on the edge of a precipice” over Turkish
objections to a clause it fears could affect NATO membership
which piled on top of Austrian demands that the Muslim nation
be offered an alternative short of full membership.

Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul’s plane waited at
Ankara airport to fly him to Luxembourg as 11th hour haggling
continued on the exact form of EU assurances to Turkey.

EU foreign ministers cooled their heels in frustration,
most of them in the dark on the details of Straw’s
negotiations.

Austria’s acquiescence came when U.N. war crimes prosecutor
Carla del Ponte declared that Croatia was now fully cooperating
with her tribunal, clearing the way for the EU to open stalled
entry talks with Zagreb.

The former Yugoslav republic is a close ally of Vienna.

The United States lent a hand to try to rescue the stalled
talks after Turkey objected to a clause which hardliners in
Ankara said could affect its ability to keep Cyprus out of
NATO.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice telephoned Turkish
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan to assure him that the proposed
EU negotiating framework would not impinge on NATO.

“We are basically saying: cut whatever deal you can get at
the EU and don’t worry that somehow it ties your hands at NATO
– because we don’t think it does,” a State Department official
said.

AUSTRIA ASSUAGED

Turkish financial markets rose with hopes of a deal after
yo-yoing all day with the uncertainty. Stocks, which had fallen
some 2.3 percent from Friday’s close, ended up 1.9 percent as
Ankara studied the draft agreement. The lira and bonds also
recovered earlier losses against the dollar.

Diplomats said the final snag concerned a Turkish demand
for a statement by all 25 EU member states clarifying a
provision stipulating that Turkey must not block EU members
from joining international organizations and treaties.

Britain offered a less legally binding presidency statement
to avoid the need for prickly Cyprus and Greece to assent.

“These are not problems which should capsize the greater
perspective,” Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller said.

Straw telephoned Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel to
clinch agreement on a formula to satisfy Austrian concerns that
the EU may not be able to absorb the vast, poor, Muslim
country.

Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik confirmed her
country had dropped its objection to the key phrase that the
shared aim of the negotiations was accession, in return for
assurances that the EU’s “absorption capacity” was a condition
for accession, and that the cost would be fairly shared.

After resuming the talks with only a couple of hours’
sleep, Straw told the ministers: “Yes, we are near (to a deal)
but we are also on the edge of a precipice.

“If we go the right way we reach the sunny uplands. If we
go the wrong way, it could be catastrophic for the European
Union.”

In Ankara, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan told a meeting of
the ruling AK party that Turkey was not prepared to compromise
further on the conditions for opening the long-awaited talks.

“Those in the EU who cannot digest Turkey being in the EU
are against the alliance of civilizations. What I declare is
this: the costs resulting from all this will be paid by them.”

Turkey has frequently portrayed its entry to the EU as a
way of bridging a gap between the Christian and Islamic worlds
and easing tensions that may have fostered Islamic militancy.

TIME RUNNING OUT

Failure to start the talks would deal a blow to political
reform and foreign investment in Turkey, a strategic country of
72 million people straddling Europe and the Middle East.

It would also deepen a sense of crisis in Europe, after
referendum defeats for the draft EU constitution in France and
the Netherlands, and an acrimonious failure in June to agree on
a long-term budget for the enlarged bloc.

“If there is no deal, my personal judgment is that we are
increasingly starting to look like a Union of failing states
because we cannot make any decisions,” Latvian Foreign Minister
Artis Pabriks told Reuters.




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