- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 23, 2003

ISTANBUL — Turkish officials are calling for negotiations on the country’s entry into the European Union to be expedited, arguing that a wave of terrorist attacks has lent urgency to the project.

Early approval of the bid, which officials hope would bring a surge of foreign investment, would provide a crucial endorsement by the West of a country that has mixed democracy and Islam, these officials say.

“We see the European Union as an address where civilizations unite and harmonize,” Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corp. yesterday.

“That’s why Turkey has to enter the European Union as soon as possible. Because Turkey is a model country, which has merged the culture of Islam and democracy together.”

The prime minister also said authorities “have some evidence which indicates there are religious motives behind” the attacks, which killed 57 persons in a week. “But is this an al Qaeda conglomerate? We are not 100 percent sure at this point.”

At least three groups with purported links to al Qaeda have claimed responsibility for the attacks. At least four suicide bombers have been identified as Turkish nationals.

Senior European officials issued public statements last week to share the Turkish sense that EU membership has become more urgent.

British Foreign Minister Jack Straw said the terrorist attacks should strengthen the EU’s desire to see Turkey as a member, while Germany’s interior minister said the dialogue should be intensified.

The issue will be discussed at a meeting in Ankara today between German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer and Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, a Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman said.

“There’s growing awareness that we share the same fate,” said Ilter Turan, a professor of politics at Istanbul Bilgi University.

“This is the only example of a society whose population is mostly Muslim that has become a modern secular society, and people think that this model should be retained to show the Muslim world that this is possible.”

Admitting Turkey to the EU would bring in a developing economy that ranks among the 20 largest in the world. Turkey would also become one of the largest countries by population in the EU.

But there are reservations throughout Europe about whether adding a country of Asian Muslims would be an appropriate fit for the group, Mr. Turan said. Negotiations are likely to focus on Turkey’s human rights record and the extraordinary political influence wielded by the army.

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