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Still No EU Deal to Start Membership Talks with Turkey

European Union foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg have resumed their effort to break an impasse that is preventing the start of membership talks with Turkey, scheduled for later Monday. The ministers have failed so far to get Austria to drop its insistence that Turkey be offered something less than full membership in the union.

The ministers talked late into the night but could not overcome Austrian objections to what EU diplomats call the negotiating framework of the membership talks.

Austria, where four out of five people are against Turkish accession to the EU, is holding out for an explicit alternative to full membership for the overwhelmingly Muslim country. It wants the bloc to offer Turkey what it calls a "privileged partnership", a status Turkish officials consider second-class and totally unacceptable.

Turkish foreign minister Abdullah Gul has said he will not attend the membership talks that are scheduled to begin later in the day unless he is absolutely certain that the EU is offering his country full membership and nothing else.

Meanwhile, British diplomats, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, are scrambling to come up with an agreement with the Austrians. But, so far, there is no deal.

Austrian foreign minister Ursula Plassnik still insists that Turkey be offered a status short of accession if the EU is unable to absorb such a big, poor, culturally different nation.

"We are making some progress, not enough yet, but I hope that with efforts, additional efforts, we will be able to achieve the progress that is needed for us," she said.

All 25 EU countries have to agree to start negotiations with Turkey, and Austria is the only holdout, even though all members agreed last December that the talks should begin Monday.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency and is chairing the emergency meeting, did not hide his frustration when he met with reporters this morning.

"These negotiations are difficult," said Mr. Straw. "I hope that we are able to make progress, but I cannot say that we will be able to make progress, so, on the question whether negotiations are able to start, it's a matter of 'if', if we are able to reach agreement in these discussions with Austria."

Diplomats in Luxembourg say that Turkey has rejected an initial Anglo-Austrian compromise on the negotiating framework. They say that, as long as Austria and Turkey hold to their positions, the chances for the entry talks with Ankara to start as planned are looking less likely.