EU gives Turkey time to recognise Cyprus

&to=http:// ' target=_blank>European Union leaders offered to start membership talks with Turkey next Oct. 3, as long as the Turkish government ends its diplomatic standoff with historic rival &to=http:// ' target=_blank>Cyprus.

EU governments gave no guarantee that the 10- to 15-year negotiating process -- designed to promote Turkish economic growth and build a bridge to the wider Muslim world -- would lead to full membership.

There is "not a guarantee for the outcome," Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende told a news conference late yesterday after chairing an EU meeting in Brussels. European Commission President Jose Barroso said: "This is an offer that Turkey should be glad to accept", informs Bloomberg.

Tony Blair is on course to take charge of historic negotiations designed to pave the way for Turkish membership of the EU after European leaders last night gave the green light to accession talks.

In a significant moment in EU history, &to=http:// ' target=_blank>Turkey was invited to start accession talks on October 3 next year. The move, in response to a request from the French to delay the start of the negotiations, was welcomed by Britain, which will have assumed the presidency of the EU by then. Barring a general election upset, Mr Blair will spearhead the talks.

"The European Union has opened its door to Turkey," said Jose Manuel Barroso, the president of the European commission, adding that the decision "takes into account the legitimate preoccupations of Turkey and the preoccupations of European members states. It shows the end goal: membership. It sets a date for the start of talks", wrote the Guardian.

The Cyprus issue has become one of the biggest stumbling blocks to Turkey's hopes of seeing its drive to be embraced into the European fold bear fruit.

Although Cyprus joined the EU in May, Turkey still refuses to recognise its government, recognising instead only the Turkish Cypriot northern third of the divided island.

Nevertheless, the talks are likely to come with a series of conditions attached to Turkey's EU bid that would be unprecedented for a membership candidate.

The negotiations will last for at least 10 years, they could be suspended in case of serious problems, and membership is not ultimately guaranteed, draft summit conclusions say.

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