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Turkey: Prime Minister Rules Out Immediate Recognition Of Cyprus

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was in London today to discuss Ankara's EU accession bid with his British counterpart Tony Blair, whose country currently holds the rotating EU Presidency. Erdogan reiterated Turkish readiness to extend a customs union agreement with the EU to all countries that joined in 2004, including Cyprus. But he ruled out any immediate recognition of the Greek administration of the divided Mediterranean island.

Prague, 27 July 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The meeting at 10 Downing Street lasted just over one hour.

Ali Babacan, Turkey’s chief negotiator with the European Union, accompanied Erdogan.

The foreign ministers of Turkey and Britain, Abdullah Gul and Jack Straw, also attended the meeting.

Addressing reporters after the talks, Erdogan reiterated Ankara’s readiness to extend its customs agreement with the EU to all 10 countries that joined the bloc in 2004, including Cyprus.

The EU has made the extension of Turkey’s customs agreement a key condition to start accession talks with Ankara on 3 October.

The bloc’s EU foreign ministers in June approved the extension of the customs agreement in what is commonly referred to as the Ankara protocol, and sent the document to Turkey for approval.

Turkish officials say their country wants an additional declaration stating that extending the customs agreement to Cyprus would not mean automatic recognition of the divided island’s Greek Cypriot administration.

Erdogan stood firm on this issue today, describing Ankara's insistence in obtaining an additional declaration as being "constructive."

Blair tried to reassure his Turkish guests on this point, reiterating the EU’s position that that the extension of the customs agreement to Cyprus and Ankara's eventual recognition of Cyprus were two separate issues.

“I restated very clearly the position to the [Turkish] prime minister that the signing of the Ankara protocol does not involve the recognition of Cyprus," Blair said. "This was made clear last December [and] made clear again in the June declaration of the European Council.”

Following the Greek Cypriots’ refusal to endorse a UN-sponsored reunification plan, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus -- which only Ankara recognizes -- has remained outside of Europe’s jurisdiction, even though the entire island officially joined the EU.

Erdogan told Turkish reporters today that Ankara will not recognize the Greek Cypriot administration until a comprehensive peace settlement is reached to end the island’s 31-year partition along ethnic lines.

"Our position with regard to the recognition [of Cyprus] will not change until a solution is found to this problem," Erdogan said.

The Turkish prime minister did not say when his country might sign the Ankara protocol.

EU officials recently said the outcome of the Blair-Erdogan meeting would help set a date for the signing ceremony. Some European diplomats say it could take place as early as 29 July; others believe it could be delayed until next week.

Erdogan said today that the document would be signed “as soon as possible,” but remained noncommittal on this issue.

Blair, who took over the EU presidency earlier this month, is a strong supporter of Ankara’s membership bid.

Today, he reiterated his conviction that admitting Turkey would benefit Europe.

“I know there are many uncertainties in Europe at the present time. But the prospect of Turkey’s membership, though obviously some time in the future, I think would be important for Europe and for its security," Blair said.

Despite Turkey’s redoubled efforts to bring its legislation in line with EU standards, many in Europe remain opposed to Ankara’s entry into the bloc.

Some critics say human rights abuses are still widespread in Turkey and demand that Ankara withdraw the estimated 30,000 troops it has been maintaining in Northern Cyprus since 1974 as a precondition to its admission.

Other opponents argue that predominantly Christian Europe should not admit a Muslim country with a population of nearly 70 million.

Turkey’s accession talks are expected to last at least 10 years.

Last week, the European Commission released the findings of a pan-European survey showing that 52 percent of European citizens are against Turkey’s admission, with the strongest opposition coming from Austria, Germany, and France.

Although EU leaders agreed in December to begin accession talks with Ankara, the bloc must agree unanimously on a negotiating mandate for talks to effectively start.

To add to Turkey’s problems, some EU countries have threatened to veto its membership over the Cyprus issue.

Cyprus President Tassos Papadopoulos, who was in London yesterday, said after talks with Blair that it would be “unthinkable” for a country that aspires to join the bloc to not recognize one of its members.