President Bush has reiterated a call for the European Union to admit Turkey, holding it up as an example of a Muslim democracy. Mr. Bush's renewed call for Turkish EU membership came after France criticized him for interfering in EU affairs.
In a speech delivered at Istanbul's Galatasaray University, Mr. Bush hailed Turkey as an Islamic country with a secular government that has found its place among the community of democracies.
Before an audience that sat silently throughout his speech, Mr. Bush reiterated U.S. backing of Turkey's desire to join the EU, saying it is important to end Muslim-Christian tensions. "American believes that, as a European power, Turkey belongs in the European Union. Your membership would also be a crucial advance in relations between the Muslim world and the West because you are part of both. Including Turkey in the EU would prove that Europe is not the exclusive club of a single religion, and it would expose the clash of civilizations as a passing myth in history," he said.
In repeating his call for the European Union to admit Turkey, Mr. Bush ignored criticism a day earlier by French President Jacques Chirac, who chided him for urging the EU to give Turkey a date for accession talks last week in Ireland. Mr. Chirac likened Mr. Bush's remarks to a French leader commenting on U.S.-Mexican relations.
EU leaders are scheduled to make a decision on whether to grant Turkey a date for beginning membership talks in December. Though Germany, Italy and Britain have supported the start of negotiations with Turkey, France is less favorable to the idea.
French pundits often express fears about Turkey's size and the cost of the EU absorbing it. They say the admission into the EU of a relatively poor country with 70 million people would bring a transfer of generous EU agricultural subsidies from such countries as France and Spain to Turkey. It would also mean that Turkey would be the biggest EU country after Germany, outranking France. And that, say analysts, is something France would find hard to accept.