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EU leaders support Turkish talks

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EU leaders support Turkish talks

The leaders of France and Germany have confirmed they are in favour of opening talks with Turkey about EU membership.

President Jacques Chirac and Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder reiterated their support ahead of a special three-way meeting with Turkey's prime minister.

President Chirac, who angered the Turks by saying France would hold a referendum on the issue, said Turkish membership was his "dearest wish".

Chancellor Schroeder said talks could begin at an EU summit on 17 December.

The leaders made their comments at a joint press conference before meeting Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Mutual interests

"I think that Europe's interest and Turkey's interest is to join forces," President Chirac said, adding: "I think this is also in the interest of peace and democracy.

"However there will then be a long-term process of negotiations, which could last 15 years."

But President Chirac vowed to press ahead with plans for a referendum on the issue in France, which have angered Turkish leaders.

Chancellor Schroeder confirmed that the EU summit in December would serve as a probable starting point for negotiations.

"We are both of the opinion that, on 17 December, it is about a decision that should give Turkey the opportunity to negotiate with the [European] Commission with the explicit aim of Turkey joining the European Union and with no other aim," he said.

Delicate negotiations

Officials in Berlin had tried to dampen expectations ahead of the meeting, saying it was organised for the signing of an aerospace contract - Turkish airlines are buying 36 Airbus passenger aircraft.

But it was clear that Turkey's bid for EU membership would be discussed, says the BBC's Ray Furlong in Berlin.

Mr Schroeder is one of the country's staunchest allies in Europe, and has strongly backed its desire to join the EU.

Mr Erdogan may hope he will be able to exert some influence on President Chirac, our correspondent says.

But although Mr Chirac has said he supports Turkish membership, he has agreed to hold a referendum on Ankara's accession in view of French public opinion which is divided over the issue, observers say.

Last week, Mr Erdogan complained about the French position during a Paris visit.

"Holding a referendum is not among the criteria for joining the EU," he said - and Turkey has noted that no existing EU member state held a plebiscite on this year's entrance of 10 new members from Eastern Europe.

Story from BBC NEWS:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/1/hi/worl...ope/3953397.stm

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