Turkey threatens to to turn its back on EU over new conditions

Brussels was due to enter negotiations with Ankara next month but many EU leaders have balked at the prospect of accepting the poor, populous and predominantly Muslim nation. They have instead floated the idea of offering Turkey a watered-down version of membership.

"Should they [the EU] propose anything short of full membership, or any new conditions, we will walk away," Turkey's Foreign Minister, Abdullah Gul, told The Economist. "And this time it will be for good."

Senior officials in Ankara privately admitted that there was mounting "disillusionment" and "frustration" with their EU bid, but they would press European leaders to honour their agreement to open accession talks. Turkey's continued unwillingness formally to recognise Cyprus, an EU member, has threatened to derail negotiations before they have even begun. Turkey refuses to recognise the internationally accepted Greek Cypriot administration and backs a breakaway Turkish Cypriot republic on the divided island.

Sceptics within the EU have argued that it is inconceivable for Turkey to negotiate accession without recognising one of the bloc's member states.

The Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said yesterday that Turkey had no more concessions to make. "Now Turkey has nothing more to give [the EU)]," he said. "We have done everything related to the Copenhagen political criteria."

Ankara has side-stepped the Cyprus issue and insists it has met all objective criteria ahead of next month's scheduled accession talks and accused some countries of playing domestic political games in threatening new conditions.

"Let's stop playing to the gallery and try to get a result," said Mr Erdogan. "That is what I desire and we will continue in this direction.

France, which is largely hostile to Turkish membership, has led calls for Ankara to concede the Cyprus recognition issue.

Germany's opposition leader Angela Merkel, widely expected to win next month's general election, has also upset Mr Erdogan by calling repeatedly on the EU to offer Ankara a "privileged partnership", falling short of full membership. "

EU leaders, meeting in Newport, south Wales, yesterday, moved to defuse the row, saying Turkey would get its talks to join the bloc on schedule. The Cypriot Foreign Minister, George Iacovou, voiced qualified optimism when asked whether he shared the confidence of the British Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, that the 3 October date for talks would be met. But he said the ball was still in Ankara's court.

"Without some Turkey steps to ameliorate the situation, it would be exceedingly difficult to continue the negotiations after the opening on the third," Mr Iacovou told the Associated Press. The Cyprus question is a major complication for Turkey's EU membership bid. The Turks argue that since they and the Turkish Cypriots accepted a UN peace plan last year to reunite the island while the Greek Cypriots rejected it, they should not now be expected to recognise the Republic of Cyprus.

Reflecting concern over Turkey's stance, the European Parliament postponed a vote, expected next week, to ratify the protocol expanding the customs union.

The foreign ministers said Turkey must fully implement the customs union and not bar Cypriot vessels from its ports.

They debated the text of a statement to be issued next week in which the EU underlines that Turkey must normalise its relations with Cyprus "as soon as can be achieved".

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