THE war of words between Turkey and France over Ankara’s EU aspirations turned increasingly ugly on Friday as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey criticised Paris’s political elite for saying that membership talks could only start once his country acknowledged Cyprus. Clearly vexed by France’s insistence that Turkey diplomatically recognise the divided island before negotiations begin on October 3, Mr Erdogan said any new conditions placed on Turkey before the talks would be “unacceptable”.

Lashing out at his French counterpart on local TV, the normally mild-mannered leader said: “I am very saddened by the French prime minister and Mr Chirac’s remarks. It is not possible for us to think about any new condition before October 3.”

Mr Erdogan, who has staked his political future on the EU negotiations, said Mr Chirac had been warned by Turkey that it would not recognise Cyprus when the bloc decided at a crucial meeting last December to open the membership talks. One of the key requirements of the talks going ahead at that time was that Ankara extend its custom agreement with Cyprus and the nine other countries that joined the EU last year. After several months of foot dragging, Turkey agreed to sign the accord last Friday. But, in a separate declaration, it also announced that the treaty did not imply recognition of the Greek Cypriot government — a step that Turks say would amount to a rejection of the breakaway Turkish-run republic in the island’s north.

The French prime minister, Dominique de Villepin, reacted saying it would be “inconceivable” for Turkey to begin EU talks without formally recognising Cyprus as a member state.

Yesterday, the French foreign minister, Philippe Douste-Blazy, echoed that stance telling Le Monde newspaper: “not wanting to recognise a country of the union, even while wanting to enter — that is not acceptable”. Turkey has steadfastly refused to have diplomatic relations with Greek-dominated Cyprus.—Dawn/The Guardian News Service

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