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Britain Says Turkey's Bid to Join EU Should Proceed

Britain says Turkey's dispute with Cyprus should not hold up the opening of negotiations next month on Turkey's eventual membership in the European Union.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw says Turkey should join the European Union because of its historic ties to the continent, and it's economic potential.

Britain holds the rotating EU presidency, and wants to see Turkey begin its accession talks with the EU as planned on October 3.

In a speech in London Thursday, Mr. Straw said the stakes for Europe are high.

"We should be very clear indeed about what is at stake," Mr. Straw said. "We all have an interest in the modernization of Turkey and of reform there. And if we make the wrong decisions we could find that we have a crisis on our own doorstep."

Turkey's EU bid has been clouded by Ankara's refusal to recognize the pro-Greek government of Cyprus, which joined the EU last year.

In July, Turkey announced it would bar Cypriot planes and ships even though Ankara had signed a new customs agreement with the EU.

Mr. Straw says the issue is complicated, and he will not rule out an emergency meeting of EU foreign ministers in late September to deal with the matter.

"I would have preferred it if the government of Turkey had not felt it necessary to issue its declaration stating that its signature did not amount to recognition of the Republic of Cyprus," he said. "By doing so, the process has frankly been made more difficult."

Attending the Straw speech was the Turkish ambassador to Britain, Akin Alptuna. He said many of Europe's concerns about Turkey could become irrelevant as the negotiations proceed.

"Turkey's membership is a long-term process," Ambassador Alptuna said. "We are talking about membership after 10 or 15 years. And many of the issues raised today may become non-issues during the course of negotiations."

Recent surveys show Europeans are lukewarm about Turkey joining the 25-nation EU. A German Marshall Fund poll released this week finds that just one in five respondents favor Turkey in the bloc.

When voters in France and the Netherlands recently defeated the EU constitution, concern about letting relatively poor and predominately Muslim Turkey into the EU was often mentioned as one of the reasons they voted no.