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Turkey Moves Closer to West With Human Rights Reforms

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

LONDON, Dec. 2, 2002 -- Turkey's recent social reforms are moving it closer to the European fold and bolstering its economic and political standing in the world, a senior U.S. administration official said here today.

The official, speaking to reporters traveling with U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz, cataloged Turkish constitutional reforms made over the last several months. He counted off the cessation of military rule in the southeastern provinces, more free speech, rights of assembly, and conferring linguistic and educational rights to its Kurdish population.

The official noted the U.S. and British governments are promoting Turkish entry into the European Union, a 15- nation bloc that wields significant economic and political clout on the continent. Turkey, which has sought EU admission for years to no avail, is struggling with a sluggish economy and rampant inflation.

The European Union is composed of Austria, Finland, Ireland, Sweden, and 11 NATO members -- Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and United Kingdom. Eight current NATO allies, including Turkey, are not in the EU: Canada, Czech Republic, Hungary, Iceland, Norway, Poland and the United States.

In recent years Turkey has demonstrated a desire to work on human rights, to work on their relationship with Greece, the U.S. official said. Such efforts helped Turkey to gain entry into the European Customs Union a few years back, he said.

Turkey and Greece, he explained, have wrangled for years over the status of Cyprus.

(Turkey responded to an alleged Greek-sponsored coup in the mid-1970s by invading and occupying the island nation, ostensibly to protect the ethnic Turkish Cypriot minority.)

"We believe that if we could . create more human rights changes in Turkey, advance Turkish democracy, move on a Cyprus settlement and continue the more positive relations between Greece and Turkey, then there is a chance" the Turks would be provided an opportunity to join the European Union, the U.S. official said.

In meetings Dec. 12 in Copenhagen, Denmark, he noted, the European Union will discuss expansion. The Turks, he pointed out, could obtain a date from that meeting to begin negotiations to join.

"There is a big opportunity brewing between now and the twelfth of December" for Turkey, the official remarked. However, he noted, Turkey's fortunes will likely depend upon Cyprus' entry into the EU, a Turkish-Greek agreement to settle the Cyprus political question, and that Turkey gets a date to discuss joining the EU.

Earlier in the day, Wolfowitz emphasized to members of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a British "think tank" in London, that Turkey's commitment to democracy has helped to bridge differences between Muslim and Western societies.

"Europe now has a strategic opportunity. By helping Turkey realize its aspirations to join the EU, Europe would contribute to the progress of a country that has the potential to be a model for the Muslim world," he pointed out.

Turkish societal and economic success "can demonstrate to the world's 1.2 billion Muslims that there is a far better path than the path of destruction and despair offered by the terrorists," Wolfowitz added, which would also "demonstrate that the benefits of free and prosperous and open societies are available equally to Muslims as to everyone."

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