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EU Postpones Consideration of Turkey's Membership Bid

The European Union says it will not decide until the end of 2004 whether to begin accession talks with Turkey. Turkey had wanted to start talks a year earlier, but the EU says it will not grant Ankara a date until it determines that Turkey meets its human rights criteria.

The EU decision is sure to disappoint Turkey, which has wanted to join the EU for a long time. But Turkish diplomats were trying to adopt an upbeat tone, saying the EU decision to postpone consideration of its membership for another two years is not altogether negative. One Turkish official says his country's unofficial leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is attending an EU summit in Copenhagen, hopes to negotiate better terms in talks Friday with EU leaders.

Turkey had been demanding a 2003 date to start entry talks with the EU. But most of the EU's 15 members agreed earlier in the week to back a Franco-German proposal whereby the EU would review Turkey's fitness for membership at the end of 2004 and start talks with the predominantly Muslim country in mid-2005.

Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, whose country holds the EU's rotating presidency, told reporters that the European Council, which brings together the bloc's heads of state and government, will wait for a recommendation by the EU's executive commission that Turkey meets the EU's human rights standards before deciding whether to proceed with accession talks.

"If the European Council, in December 2004, on the basis of a report and a recommendation from the commission, decides that Turkey fulfills the Copenhagen political criteria, the European Union will open accession negotiations with Turkey," he said.

When asked for a more precise date, Mr. Rasmussen said the negotiations could begin in his wordsas soon as possible after the EU decides that Turkey is fit to be a member.

The decision on Turkey came as the EU was preparing to admit ten new members from eastern Europe and the Mediterranean in a move that symbolically reunifies Europe 13 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The EU's leaders have approved a $40 billion funding package for the expansion. But the deal must still be approved by the newcomers, who are scheduled to formally join the union in 2004. Poland, especially, has been insisting on more money, but Mr. Rasmussen says the EU is unable to offer more cash, and, in a veiled warning to the Poles, told them to accept the offer or see their chances for membership vanish until 2007.