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Monday, 18 November, 2002, 16:08 GMT
Turkey begins Euro charm offensive
Tayyip Erdogan (left) and Costas Simitis at their press conference on Monday
Smiles, but there is no sign of a swift Cyprus deal
Key Turkish political leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan has held talks in Greece, with the divided island of Cyprus and Turkey's European Union aspirations high on the agenda.

In a move seen as highly symbolic, he has made Greece - Turkey's traditional rival - his first port of call in a tour of six European capitals.

He hopes to persuade leaders to back Turkey's bid to join the EU.

Turkey has not yet been given a date to start talks on membership.


A solution for the Cyprus problem will help all issues regarding EU-Turkish relations. Turkey should take note of this

Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis
Mr Erdogan - whose Islamist-rooted Justice and Development (AK) party won an election landslide earlier this month - is banned under Turkish law from being prime minister.

That post has gone to his deputy, Abdullah Gul, but Mr Erdogan is expected to maintain a key role in trying to boost Turkey's international standing.

Mr Gul on Monday announced his government, naming Ali Babacan - a 35-year-old Western-educated former financial consultant - as economy minister.

Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis has unexpectedly emerged as a key supporter of Turkey's EU membership aspirations.

As they met in Athens, the two leaders also discussed the United Nations peace plan for Cyprus, which was unveiled last week.

Declarations of support for negotiations have come from Turkey, Greece and the Turkish and Greek Cypriots, but the Greek Cypriots were the first to formally sign up for talks on the peace plan.

Mr Simitis stressed that an agreement on Cyprus was crucial to Turkey's credibility in its EU ambitions.

"I believe a solution for the Cyprus problem will help all issues regarding EU-Turkish relations," he said.

"Turkey should take note of this."

More time needed

The four parties represented in the Cyprus dispute have raised concerns about the tight timetable and certain details of the peace plan.

These concerns make it extremely unlikely that any peace agreement will be reached before the EU enlargement summit on 12 December.

This is when Cyprus - or, at least, the Greek Cypriot-controlled two-thirds of it - will gain approval for EU entry.

Abdullah Gul
Abdullah Gul will head Turkey's government
All parties officially had until the end of Monday to sign up to a commitment to talk, although the deadline was expected to slip because Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash is in hospital.

Mr Erdogan has said he needs more time to assess the plan, but was concerned at the proposals to shave land from the Turkish-held sector.

"There are areas in the plan that require serious talks," Mr Erdogan told Turkey's Hurriyet newspaper.

"We can negotiate this plan, but the maps are very ugly."

Mr Simitis agrees that "some significant problems" remain.

Mixed messages

European attitudes to Turkish membership remain mixed.

On a visit to Rome last week, Mr Erdogan won the support of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

But former French President Valery Giscard D'Estaing says Turkey should never be allowed to join.

Turkey has already abolished the death penalty and improved rights for its Kurdish minority, in a bid to boost its membership chances.

Mr Erdogan is also promising a fresh package of reforms including a clampdown on police use of torture.

He was to fly on to Madrid on Monday, followed later in the week by Berlin, Dublin, London, Brussels and Strasbourg.

His prime minister, Abdullah Gul, announced on Monday that President Ahmed Necdet Sezer had approved a list of 25 new cabinet members.

Those named include:

  • Foreign Minister: Yasar Yakis
  • Defence Minister: Vecdi Gonul
  • Economy Minister: Ali Babacan
  • Interior Minister Abdulkadir Aksu
 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Mr Egeman Baris, Turkey's foreign policy advisor
"It is in the interests of Greece and Turkey to be members of the EU"
Turkey's election

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16 Nov 02 | Europe
16 Nov 02 | Europe
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