ANKARA — Prime Minister David Cameron said Tuesday he was angered by the slow pace of Turkey's European Union accession talks and warned against shutting Ankara out because of anti-Muslim prejudice.
Cameron's strong support for Turkey's limping EU bid puts him in stark contrast to fellow EU heavyweights France and Germany who argue against letting the mainly-Muslim country of over 70 million people to become a full member.
"When I think about what Turkey has done to defend Europe as a NATO ally and what Turkey is doing now in Afghanistan alongside European allies, it makes me angry that your progress towards EU membership can be frustrated in the way it has been," Cameron said in a keynote speech to Turkish businessmen in Ankara.
"I believe it's just wrong to say Turkey can guard the camp but not be allowed to sit inside the tent," added the British premier, on his first visit to Turkey since taking office.
He pledged to remain Turkey's "strongest possible advocate for EU membership" and urged Ankara to "push forward aggressively" with EU-minded reforms.
The EU opened accession talks with Turkey in 2005, but it has so far opened talks in only 13 of the 35 policy areas, called chapters, that a candidate country has to successfully negotiate prior to membership.
Eight chapters remain frozen as a sanction for Turkey's refusal to open its sea and air ports to Cyprus, an EU member that Ankara does not recognise owing to the island's 36-year division between its Greek and Turkish communities.
French President Nicola Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have added to the gloom, arguing Turkey should be offered a "privileged partnership" rather than full membership, a proposal that Ankara categorically rejects.
Targeting France over its opposition to Turkey without directly naming it, Cameron recalled that Paris had once vetoed Britain's entry to the EU.
"Do you know who said: 'Here is a country that is not European...This is a country which ... cannot, despite what it claims and perhaps even believes, be a full member'," Cameron asked.
"It might sound like some Europeans describing Turkey. But it was actually General (Charles) de Gaulle describing the U.K. before vetoing our EU accession," he said.
"We know what it?s like to be shut out of the club," Cameron added. "But we also know that these things can change."
The British leader also turned on those who oppose Turkey's EU bid on the grounds of its Muslim majority population and saw "the history of the world through the prism of a clash of civilizations".
"They think Turkey has to choose between East and West and that choosing both is not an option," he said,
The United States and some European officials have charged that the EU's failure to fully embrace Turkey is behind a perceived drift away from the West in the country's foreign policy.
The accusations were raised last month after Turkey voted against fresh UN sanctions on Iran over its controversial nuclear programme and plunged into a deep crisis with one-time ally Israel after nine Turks were killed in an Israeli operation on a Gaza-bound aid ship.
Cameron urged Ankara to work to repair its ties with Israel and to persuade Iran to halt its uranium enrichment work, which the international commununity suspects masks a covert weapons programme.
He also expressed doubt over a deal Turkey and Brazil brokered in May under which Iran agreed to send some of its uranium stockpiles to Turkey in return for nuclear fuel.
"Even if Iran were to complete the deal proposed in their agreement with Turkey and Brazil, it would still retain around fifty percent of its stockpile of low enriched uranium. So we need Turkey's help now in making it clear to Iran just how serious we are about engaging fully with the international community," he said.
Copyright © 2013 AFP. All rights reserved. More »