23rd Sep 2019

Bush says Turkish EU membership in US 'interest'

  • Mr Bush was told about the "sensitivities" of Ankara over the Cyprus question (Photo: Irish Presidency)

One year after the start of Turkey's accession talks with the EU, US president George W. Bush has said it is "in the interest" of Washington that Ankara joins the bloc.

The US leader made his remarks after meeting Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday – a day before the anniversary date of 3 October which marks the kick-off of Turkey's official EU membership negotiations one year ago.

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"I made it very clear to the prime minister I think it's in the United States' interests that Turkey join the European Union," Mr Bush said.

His words are a public recognition of Washington's frequent interventions in EU-Turkey relations, demonstrated last year by US diplomatic efforts to avert a last-minute cancelling of the historic opening of the EU-Turkey talks.

On 3 October 2005, EU foreign ministers only agreed to launch the talks after a gruelling session of 30 hours of discussion, with Turkish foreign minister Abdullah Gul joining EU counterparts only after midnight when the green light was finally given.

But the issue which at the time threatened to derail the start of Ankara's EU negotiations – the Cyprus problem – could already this autumn lead to a full or partial freeze of the talks, with Washington currently engaged in moves to fend off such a scenario.

Mr Erdogan said after meeting Mr Bush "It was important to hear the President say that their support for Turkey's membership to the European Union will continue…We have also had the opportunity to discuss the Cyprus issue, and I have expressed our sensitivities with regard to the issues related to Cyprus."

The EU has threatened to suspend the entry talks if Turkey continues to refuse to open its ports and airports to traffic from EU member state Cyprus – a requirement under a customs agreement between Ankara and Brussels.

US diplomats, together with the Finnish EU presidency, are currently mooting a compromise deal which would see a trade-off between Turkey opening its ports and airports in return for the EU ending the economic isolation of the Turkish Cypriot community.

Rehn visit

Meanwhile, EU enlargement commissioner Olli Rehn arrived in Turkey on Monday for three-day discussions which are likely to focus on the Cyprus issue, but also on Turkish efforts to comply with EU standards on free speech and human rights.

His visit comes amid fresh criticism by the Turkish army directed towards Brussels for its pressure on Ankara to curb the military's political and societal influence.

Turkey's top general Yasar Buyukanit on Monday accused Brussels of a "campaign" against the army, explicitly criticising the EU's ambassador to Ankara, according to press reports.

The European Commission will on 8 November release what is expected to be a highly critical report on Turkey's accession progress.

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