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Official Expresses Optimism on Turkey's EU Membership Bid - 2002-11-14

The European Union's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, arrived in Turkey Thursday for talks with senior Turkish officials and politicians. Mr. Solana has been discussing a broad range of issues, including Turkey's bid for membership in the European Union.

Mr. Solana told a news conference in Ankara he wants to give Turkey "a signal of hope" in its bid to become a member of the European Union.

Turkey is pressing EU leaders, who hold a summit in Copenhagen next month, to set a date for accession talks to begin. Mr. Solana said he did not rule out that possibility.

Turkey is the EU's sole Islamic candidate, and many Turks believe the European Union is opposed to Turkey's membership because it is predominantly Muslim. Such suspicions were reinforced last month, after the EU failed to include Turkey among the list of candidate countries with which it has agreed to launch membership negotiations.

EU leaders deny any religious bias, and cite Turkey's poor human rights record and the continuing influence of the Turkish military in domestic politics.

Mr. Solana, however, sounded an optimistic note Thursday, saying he had held positive talks with Turkish leaders, and especially with Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the leader of the Islamic-rooted party which swept to power in elections November 3.

Ever since his electoral victory, Mr. Erdogan has repeatedly said that EU membership will be his government's primary goal. He is set to travel to several European capitals Monday to build support for Turkey's membership.

EU diplomats in Ankara say Turkish support for a United Nations plan unveiled earlier this week to reunite the divided island of Cyprus would increase Turkey's chances of joining the union. Mr. Solana echoed those views, saying a resolution of the Cyprus dispute ahead of the Copenhagen summit was highly desirable.

Turkey has reacted cautiously to the plan so far. Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit recently said it contained certain undesirable elements.

It was Mr. Ecevit, who, in 1974, ordered Turkish troops onto the island, in the wake of a failed attempt by Greek Cypriot ultranationalists to annex Cyprus to Greece. Some 30,000 troops are based on the Turkish-controlled northern tip of the island, which has remained divided ever since.