Blair, Erdogan Discuss Turkey’s EU Bid

Turkey is ready to sign a protocol extending its customs union to the 10 new EU member states, including Cyprus, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in London on Wednesday (27 July). Ankara is reportedly planning, however, to attach a declaration to the protocol stressing that it does not constitute automatic formal recognition of the Greek Cypriot administration.

The extension of Ankara’s customs agreement with the EU is the last condition Turkey must meet to start entry talks with the Union on 3 October.

Speaking to reporters following talks with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, whose country currently holds the rotating EU presidency, Erdogan said there has been no change in Turkey’s position since the 25-nation bloc’s summit in December. At the time, the Turkish leader accepted the requirement of signing the customs protocol — but only after being assured that it would not imply “a formal legal recognition” of Cyprus.

“Our position with regard to the recognition [of Cyprus] will not change until a solution is found” to the 31-year division of Cyprus, Erdogan said Wednesday. He did not specify, however, when exactly the signing of the protocol would take place. Media reports suggested this could happen as early as Friday, or some time next week.

A staunch supporter of Turkey’s EU bid, Britain has described the launch of accession talks with Ankara as a key priority of its six-month presidency of the Union.

“It is simply important for us to restate the legal fact, which is the signing of the protocol does not involve the recognition of Cyprus,” CNN quoted Blair as saying during a joint press conference with Erdogan.

All EU member nations must approve the start of Turkey’s entry talks. Urging the other members of the bloc to do so without delay, Blair praised the country’s efforts in recent years to meet the EU political criteria for membership. ”

I know there are many uncertainties in Europe at the present time, but the prospect of Turkish membership, though obviously some time in the future, I think will be important for Europe and for its security,” the British prime minister said.

During their press conference Wednesday, Blair and Erdogan also said their countries would co-operate against terrorism, following recent attacks in London and Turkey. The Turkish prime minister said the goal of terrorists was to create a conflict between the West and Islam, and that this trap must be avoided. Blair reiterated that Turkish EU membership would play an important role in ensuring European and global security.

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