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EU agrees to Turkey entry talks

Erdogan has made many strides towards making Turkey an acceptable EU member.
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BRUSSELS, Belgium -- After hours of intense negotiations, European leaders have agreed the European Union will begin membership talks with Turkey on October 3, 2005 -- a major step in Turkey's long pursuit of joining the EU.

"Ladies and gentlemen, tonight, the European Union has opened its door to Turkey," European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso said at a news conference late Thursday.

"I genuinely believe this is an offer that Turkey should be glad to accept. It shows clearly the end goal: The end goal is membership."

But Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende, the head of the EU's rotating presidency, said on Friday he had not yet reached an agreement with Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan on the terms offered by the EU for starting membership negotiations, Reuters reported.

"We talked ... in detail about several aspects and tomorow (Friday) we will continue our conversation," Balkenende told reporters after a two-hour meeting with Erdogan which started after midnight.

Earlier, Balkenende said that debate on key issues such as Cyprus would be the focus of talks throughout the day Friday.

"We've had a very interesting working dinner," Balkenende said after meeting with European heads of state over dinner. "We can start negotiations with Turkey on the basis of the analysis of the commission."

He said the goal of October 2005 discussions will be accession, but "there's not a guarantee for the outcome" -- meaning Turkey could be rejected in its bid to become the 26th member of the EU.

But Balkenende said he was pleased with Thursday's developments: "I am satisfied with the discussions of tonight."

Diplomats said among the key sticking points in discussions were whether Turkey would recognize Cyprus, something Istanbul has refused in the past; whether Turkey would accept talks in which there's no guarantee of membership; and whether restrictions would be placed on millions of Turkish guest workers in Europe.

Balkenende said formal discussions on those issues would take place Friday.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said Erdogan has said his government would recognize Cyprus -- the island nation whose Greek-led government recently joined the EU -- but it needs to go to parliament first.

Erdogan had pushed for accession talks in April, but the EU ultimately came up with the October date.

Giving the go-ahead to accession talks marks the beginning of a new era for Turkey, which has long coveted EU membership but has been rebuffed for decades. It also signals a new chapter in relations between Europe and the Islamic world.

If accepted, Turkey would be the first predominantly Muslim nation to join the EU.

Turkey geographically straddles Europe and Asia but many in the nation, ruled by a secular, democratic government, consider themselves culturally European.

There is also great significance to Turkey's membership in what some there have called a "Christian Club" during this era of tension between the West and the Muslim world.

But accession will not come easy, with discussions expected to take years.

"Turkey's fit to open the negotiations with the European Union," EU Commissioner Olli Rehn told CNN.

"The negotiations, once started, will certainly be long and difficult. And in many ways the process of negotiations and reform will be as important as the outcome."

Balkenende said in Thursday's discussions EU officials talked "constructively" about "what happens if it fails."

European nations have balked over membership talks on a number of issues -- minority rights, religious freedoms, trade union rights, women's rights, the role of the army in Turkish politics and Ankara's relations with Armenia and Cyprus.

Turkey, under Erdogan, recently has made many strides in its laws that would qualify it for membership.

Last May, the EU expanded by 10 nations to become a 25-member union. The 10 new members were Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia.

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