EU concerned over possible Turkish cross-border operation; plans new accession talks this month

166.jpgThe EU supports Turkey’s struggle against terrorism, but would discourage the country from launching an incursion into northern Iraq, diplomats said on Monday (June 4th) as a high-level meeting got under way in Ankara.

“Turkey has long supported the sovereignty and territorial unity of Iraq, as well as the need to strengthen the Iraqi government. That is what the EU also supports and we do not think it would be for the interest of any party to make things much worse in Iraq,” media reports quoted a European diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, as saying.

A cross-border operation has the potential to complicate Turkey’s EU accession talks further, the diplomat added. Negotiations already have been dogged by a number of other issues, including the decades-old Cyprus dispute.

The so-called EU Troika, consisting of German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn and Portuguese Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Joao Cravinho, met with Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul to discuss a number of issues, including the EU’s plans to open three new chapters in accession talks this month.

Gul told them that the recent massing of Turkish troops along the country’s border with Iraq was not intended as preparation for an invasion, but rather aimed to improve border security and prevent the entry of Kurdistan Workers Party terrorists.

“We have every right to take measures against terrorist activities directed at us from northern Iraq,” media reports quoted Gul as saying.

Steinmeier, whose country currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency, confirmed the issue had been raised at the meeting. He said the Troika sought to learn the position of the Turkish government.

“I don’t have the impression from my colleague Gul’s remarks that Turkey is to launch a cross-border operation,” Steinmeier said.

The three officials were in Ankara to discuss, among other issues, Turkey’s EU accession bid and progress in political and economic reforms.

Brussels has said it will open three new negotiating chapters — economic and monetary affairs, statistics and financial control issues — prior to July 1st, when Portugal takes over the rotating presidency from Germany.

“We are planning to resume negotiations with Turkey on three articles June 26th,” Steinmeier confirmed. In a remark seen as indicating continued EU unease over the role of the military in Turkey, he said he hoped “all forces and institutions in Turkey will fulfill their own responsibilities”.

The Troika members also stressed the need to push ahead with reforms, especially with regard to freedom of expression, religious freedom, women’s rights and trade union rights. They again insisted that a controversial penal code article, which makes it a criminal offence to insult Turkish national identity and institutions, should be revoked.

The new government that is formed after the July 22nd election should immediately start work in these areas to maintain the momentum for reform, the officials said.

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