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EU Seeks to Assure Turkey on Accession Bid

EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton, (File).

EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton, (File).

A top official of the European Union has assured Turkey that its troubled bid to join the European bloc is on track.

The reassurance came Tuesday from EU Foreign Affairs chief Catherine Ashton, who spoke in Istanbul alongside Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and other Turkish officials.

Ashton welcomed Turkey's growing influence in the Middle East, the Balkans, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan, while EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule called for ways to speed up ongoing accession talks.

EU officials opened those talks with the Ankara government in 2005. But the process has slowed to a crawl in the past two years, as France and Germany raised objections to mainly-Muslim Turkey's membership.

Last month, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned that Europe's reluctance to bolster ties with Turkey was pushing the Ankara government away from the West.

He blamed Turkey's perceived shift eastward on Europe's refusal to grant Ankara the "organic link to the West" that Turkish officials are seeking.

Eight EU chapters or categories in the lengthy EU accession process remain frozen, in an EU attempt to spur the Ankara government to open its airports and seaports to Cyprus.

Turkey does not recognize the Greek Cypriot government, and has sided with the Turkish Cypriot north in the 36-year standoff that has divided the Mediterranean island-nation. Ongoing reconciliation talks begun in 2008 between the Turkish north and Greek Cypriot south have so far failed to produce a settlement.