- The Washington Times - Friday, July 14, 2006

NICOSIA, Cyprus — Turkish enthusiasm for membership in the European Union is ebbing, eroded by the bloc’s criticism of the pace and extent of essential reforms.

Diplomats cite negative opinion polls, according to which 35 percent of Turks would like to join the bloc, or half the number before the negotiations started last year.

The most recent drop apparently was caused by a barrage of EU warnings of suspending the membership talks unless Turkey conforms to a trade protocol and allows Greek Cypriot ships and aircraft into its harbors and airports.

According to one Greek diplomatic assessment, “Turkey increasingly feels like an unwanted bride” of the European Union.

Despite speculation that the Turkish government is considering a “B plan” of closer relations with the Arab world in the event of a breakdown of the EU talks, a “European future” is still the pillar of the foreign policy of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party.

At the same time, Turkish officials talk of the need to rebuild what they describe as “a fractured alliance” with the United States, particularly after last week’s Washington trip by Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, who also serves as deputy prime minister.

In talks with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other officials, Mr. Gul discussed what the Turks describe as “a document outlining a common vision on essential international problems.”

Although Turkish opinion polls show dislike of Americans as political and military partners, the United States has been a major voice in pushing Turkey’s EU membership, seeing it as advantageous for both the union and Turkey.

The main objections to the United States by the Turkish public are U.S. policy in Iraq and support for the Kurds, which many perceive as undermining Turkey’s security by spurring Kurdish nationalism.

Washington thinks that delaying Turkey’s EU membership is likely to lead to a breakdown of the talks and a major readjustment of Turkey’s foreign policy, possibly against Western interests. That is why the U.S. has been pressing the union to spare Turkish sensitivities during the negotiations.

The next EU assessment of Turkey’s reform performance is expected in October, with considerable criticism of slow progress on the rights of minorities, women and religious freedom. Turkey hopes to conclude talks on the second of the 35 “membership chapters” by the end of the year.

The European bloc is expected to stress in its October report that in Turkey, “violence against women is sometimes considered as a normal social phenomenon by both men and women.”

EU analysts say 58 percent of women in Turkey’s less-developed areas experience violence in their families, including “honor killing,” which is often tolerated by law.

Despite EU pressure, Turkey has refused to allow Greek Cypriot air and maritime traffic without major economic concessions to the Turkish Cypriot state established in the north of the island after the 1974 Turkish invasion and recognized only by Turkey.

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