France says Turkey must recognize Cyprus before EU talks

France has said Turkey should recognize Cyprus before it is allowed to start talks about joining the European Union.

French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin said it was "inconceivable" to open talks with a country that did not recognize all 25 EU member states.

Turkey is due to begin EU membership talks in October.

Last week Turkey extended its customs union to 10 new EU countries including Cyprus. But it still refused to recognize the government of Cyprus, reports BBC.

According to Reuters, Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin's comment added a new complication to Turkey's bid to open accession talks, just days after it met the last official condition by signing an agreement extending a customs union to new EU members, including Cyprus.

"It doesn't seem conceivable to me that a negotiation process of whatever kind can start with a country that does not recognize every member state of the European Union, in other words all 25 of them," Villepin told Europe 1 radio.

"Entering a negotiation process, whatever it is, first assumes recognition of each of the members."

Asked whether this meant that the start of entry talks could be delayed from October 3, Villepin said "of course", adding that it was "urgent, to wait for Turkey to show a real willingness to enter into this negotiation process".

France has a possibility to block the opening of talks since all 25 EU states must approve a negotiating mandate unanimously before negotiations can begin.

De Villepin's comments mark a continued retreat from President Jacques Chirac's support for Turkey's EU membership before voters rejected the EU constitution in a referendum May 29. On June 17, Chirac urged fellow EU leaders to reconsider planned enlargement.

Nicolas Sarkozy, who heads Chirac's Union for a Popular Movement party and may seek to replace him in 2007 presidential elections, opposes Turkey joining the EU. Turkey could face opposition in Germany if Angela Merkel, the opposition candidate for chancellor, wins the Sept. 18 elections. Like Sarkozy, she supports offering Turkey a "privileged partnership" instead of full membership.

Sixty-six percent of the French want Turkey to stay out of the European Union, a June 7 opinion poll by CSA showed.

"France no longer surprises with such negative comments about Turkey's EU bid," said Elif Cengiz, who helps manage about $4 billion at Is Portfolio Management in Istanbul. "French politicians made similar noise before the Dec. 17 decision to start membership talks with Turkey. The pro-Turkish U.K. holding the rotational presidency provides an advantage to Turkey right now."

Cyprus Dispute

Turkey has refused to recognize the government of Cyprus since invading and occupying the northern tier of the island in 1974 in response to a coup by supporters of union with Greece.

The southern, Greek half of Cyprus became part of the EU last year after its voters rejected a United Nations-backed unification plan. Turkey keeps 30,000 troops in northern Cyprus and is alone in recognizing the Turkish Cypriot government there as legitimate, reminds Bloomberg.

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