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NATO: Turkey Drops Threat To Block Expansion

Munich, 27 March 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Germany says Turkey has dropped its threat to block the entry of Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic into NATO unless Turkey is promised membership of the European Union.

Turkey is a full member of NATO and can exercise a veto on new members. Its Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan and foreign minister Tansu Ciller have warned several times recently that Turkey might do so if it does not receive better treatment from the European Union..

But Germany's foreign minister Klaus Kinkel said after a visit to Ankara yesterday that he had been given assurances by Mrs. Ciller that her Government was not opposed to the expansion of NATO.

At the same time, she reaffirmed Turkey's demand for better treatment from the EU. She said Turkey wanted the same chances of acquiring full membership as other countries which applied later than it did. These include Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic. They also include Mediterranean countries such as Malta and Cyprus.

Some German newspapers claimed today that Kinkel's discussions in Ankara had "defused" the tensions created by recent Turkish statements expressing anger at its treatment by the European Union. Other pointed out, however, that tension could rise again if Turkey felt it was being mishandled by the EU

The Munich newspaper "Suddeutsche Zeitung" said the Kinkel visit had only "papered-over" the conflict and there were enough other problems to ensure it would soon erupt again.

Turkey has made no secret recently of its bitterness at the lack of progress in its relations with the 15-nation European Union, many of whose members are also members of NATO. It has long wanted to join the EU but has been told recently that it has no chance of doing so in the near future. In the meantime a string of other countries from Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean appear to be receiving more favorable treatment. Turkey has only a customs union with the EU, which came into force at the beginning of 1996..

Germany has previously acknowledged that in practice Turkey has obtained little benefit from the customs union. In particular, Turkey is angry at the failure of the European Union to fulfill promises of economic assistance. This has been blocked by Greece, which traditionally takes a hostile stance to Turkey because of territorial disputes and its occupation since 1974 of part of the island of Cyprus. Greece can block the aid because it is a member of the European Union.

According to a German foreign ministry spokesman, Ciller told Kinkel that Turkey did not expect to join the European Union in the next two or three years. But it wanted fair treatment after waiting in the wings for many years. She argued that "no new wall should be built" to once again divide Europe into two. She also stressed that there was a link between the expansion of NATO and the expansion of the European Union, in some cases through the same countries.

According to the German foreign ministry, Kinkel emphasized that Turkey does belong to Europe and stressed particularly its strategic importance for NATO. At the same time, he told Ciller that there was no chance of Turkey being accepted as a full member of the European Union in the foreseeable future. One reason is the widespread criticism in international organizations such as the Council of Europe of Turkey's human rights record. The hostility of Greece was cited as another reason.

The spokesman said Kinkel promised Turkey that Germany would do everything in its power to develop the closest possible relationship b between Ankara and the European Union outside of full membership. He also proposed a deepening of the political dialogue between the EU and Turkey and closer co-operation on such issues as organized crime, drugs and terrorism.

Kinkel also promised that Bonn would do what it could to see that the Customs Union was made effective and that Turkey received the promised aid.

German political commentators said today the visit eventually took place in far better circumstances than were imagined earlier in the week. It was nearly called-off on Tuesday night just before Kinkel was scheduled to leave.

The German foreign minister was angered at a news agency report which quoted Turkish Prime Minister Erbakan as saying the German should come to Ankara covered in shame and with sunken head because of the EU's failure to honor its promises.

Kinkel said publicly that as a German and European foreign minister he would travel with head high to Turkey. He said there was nothing for which the EU had to be ashamed. replied. He delayed his flight for two hours on Tuesday night until he received a denial that Erbakan had made the remark.

The German foreign ministry spokesman said that Erbakan told Kinkel in Ankara there had been a "misunderstanding" and he had been misquoted.

Kinkel and other NATO foreign ministers have said recently they are concerned with Turkey's apparent disillusionment with the West. The Erbakan government has made efforts in recent months to improve ties with Iran and other Muslim countries. The U.S. has expressed anger at the attempt to build ties with Iran, which Washington considers a terrorist state.