Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has rejected a French call for his country to recognize Cyprus in order to begin membership talks with the EU and asserted that Ankara would not bow to new conditions.
Erdogan doesn't like what he's hearing from France
"It is out of the question for us to consider or talk about any new conditions regarding the accession process slated to begin on Oct. 3," Erdogan told reporters in Ankara.
In a new complication to Ankara's long-standing EU bid, French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin said Tuesday that Turkey must recognize the Republic of Cyprus before it can begin membership talks.
French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin
"It seems to me inconceivable that such a negotiation process can begin with a country which does not recognize every one of the members of the European Union, that is to say the 25," Villepin told Europe One radio.
The conservative French daily Le Figaro reported Wednesday, citing unnamed government ministers, that French President Jacques Chirac had lent support to his prime minister's position in a cabinet meeting.
Turkey refuses to endorse Cyprus' internationally-recognized Greek Cypriot government, which joined the EU last year.
German opposition backs France
Leaders of Germany's opposition Christian Democratic Union party said they backed France's call.
"Villepin is right," Friedbert Pflüger, the party's foreign policy expert, told Reuters. "It is indeed difficult to imagine that negotiations can start with a country that has not beforehand recognized every single member of the EU."
While Britain's EU presidency said recognition of all EU countries had not been made a condition for entry talks, a leading German politician disagreed.
"To my recollection, the Council decision was that a way be found so that Turkey must recognize all EU members before the start of entry negotiations," said Wolfgang Schäuble, the CDU's expert on European affairs.
German foreign ministry spokespeople declined to comment and referred the matter to the British EU presidency.
Ankara signs customs union
Last week, Ankara signed a document extending an existing Turkey-EU customs union accord to 10 new EU members, including Cyprus, a crucial EU condition for the start of accession negotiations.
Border crossing between the Greek and Turkish parts of Cyprus in Nikosia.
But it underlined in an attached unilateral declaration that the signing of the protocol does not amount to a formal recognition of the Greek Cypriot government.
Erdogan said he was disappointed by both Villepin's and Chirac's remarks especially because the French president had asserted in a telephone call after the EU's Dec. 17 summit -- which approved starting accession talks with Turkey -- that the protocol would not amount to a recognition of Cyprus.
"Unfortunately we are now seeing contradictory statements," he added. "This is really regrettable."
Turks holding Turkish Cypriot, left, Turkish flags, march to the parliament in Ankara
Turkey only recognizes the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, proclaimed in 1983, nine years after Turkish troops occupied the northern third of Cyprus in response to an Athens-engineered Greek Cypriot coup in Nicosia aimed at uniting the Mediterranean island with Greece.
Turkey says its position towards the Greek Cypriot administration will remain unchanged until the conflict is resolved and the Turkish and Greek communities of the island are reunified.
Turkish Cypriots supported unification in a referendum just ahead of Cyprus' EU entry in May 2004, but Greek Cypriots rejected the plan.