12/17/2004, 00.00
TURKEY - EUROPEAN UNION
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EU's Cyprus demand dismays Turkey

Orthodox  Patriarch hopes  for "a positive decision".

Brussels (AsiaNews/Agencies) - European Union leaders agreed to open negotiations with Turkey next year on eventual EU membership, but Turkey's prime minister said more talks were needed before his government could decide whether to accept the offer.

Differences over the decades-long issue of Cyprus, divided between its Greek and Turkish communities, appeared to be standing in the way of a final agreement.

The 25 EU leaders on Thursday proposed on October 3, 2005, as the start date for the talks, which are expected to last for years. "The European Union has opened its door to Turkey. . . making a balanced offer," said Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission. "I genuinely believe this is an offer that Turkey should be glad to accept."

The offer requires Turkey to grant effective recognition to Greek Cypriot-led Cyprus by the time the talks begin - something the Turks have refused to do. Cyprus joined the EU last May. "The recognition of Cyprus either directly or indirectly is out of the question," Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul told Turkish reporters.

Cyprus has been split into a Turkish Cypriot north and an internationally recognised Greek Cypriot south since 1974, when Turkey invaded in response to an Athens-backed coup aiming to unite the island with Greece. Only Ankara recognises the breakaway Turkish Cypriot state in the north, but it does not recognise the official government in the south.

Mr Barroso had said Turkey cannot join the EU without recognising all member states and urged Ankara to make a gesture "sooner rather than later."

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, the Turkey-based spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians, said today he hoped for a positive outcome in Turkish-European Union talks. "We expect a final and positive decision," Turkey's semiofficial Anatolia news agency quoted Bartholomew as saying at an interfaith gathering in the central city of Konya. "I hope as Turkey and the Turkish nation, we won't be disappointed. We are hopeful and sure about the efforts of Prime Minister (Recep Tayyip) Erdogan and his government." Bartholomew is considered the first among equals among Orthodox patriarchs and also directly controls several Orthodox churches around the world, but Turkey refuses to recognize his international role and considers him only the leader of Istanbul's dwindling Greek community of around 3,000.
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