- The Washington Times - Monday, November 6, 2006

NICOSIA, Cyprus — Diplomats anticipate a stinging European Union report on Turkey’s membership qualifications tomorrow, setting the stage for a confrontation between Ankara and the West.

Turkish and EU analysts fear the rebuff could push Turkey away from its avowed objective of joining Europe and into the arms of its Arab and Muslim neighbors.

“This is a highly critical report,” an EU official said of the document leaked to the press ahead of its publication. He listed human rights violations, the muzzling of the freedom of expression and the political role of the military among the areas incompatible with Turkey’s European aspirations.

Turkish officials have declined to comment on the report pending its formal publication, but they have made it clear they think the EU has imposed exceptionally harsh conditions, going beyond what it has in the past required from Christian applicants.

They have also indicated that Turkey is not prepared to agree to an EU demand that it open its airports and harbors to Greek Cypriot carriers, even though it has signed a protocol establishing a customs union with all EU members as of 2004, including Cyprus.

Turkey contends that such an act would be tantamount to recognition of the Greek Cypriot government, which opposes the Turkish Cypriot entity set up in the north of the Mediterranean island and recognized only by Turkey.

The Greek Cypriot government has not excluded the possibility of blocking Turkey’s further accession negotiations, which began a year ago. Diplomatic efforts to ease the looming crisis continued during the weekend in Brussels.

The latest developments coincide with Turkish opinion polls showing diminishing popular support for EU membership, although membership remains the cornerstone of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government.

The influential Turkish military supports the EU membership application and justifies its crucial role in governing a major country in one of the world’s most politically sensitive areas.

“Why are they picking on the army?” asked Gen. Yasar Buyukanit, the recently appointed chief of the general staff.

“The security situation must be carefully considered,” he said. “Turkey is located in a very sensitive region — we all have to be careful.” The Turkish army considers itself to be the ultimate guardian of the country’s security and of its republican system.

But some EU officials regard the military as a significant obstacle in efforts to bring predominantly Muslim Turkey into the Christian world of the European Union.

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