European Union foreign ministers met Thursday to assess Turkey's compliance with conditions to open membership talks next month, particularly Ankara's refusal so far to recognize Cyprus, an EU member nation.
The 25-nation EU has already made clear that the drawn-out membership talks would inevitably involve Cyprus and that the Mediterranean island nation will need to approve eventual membership for Turkey, with which it has had a troubled history, the AP says.
Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, speaking at Ankara airport before his departure for Wales, said Turkey had been honest, open and transparent and had fulfilled all of the objective criteria and that the EU was now obliged to follow through on its own obligation "to complete its preparations, approve the framework document and start negotiations on Oct. 3."
"Turkey has fulfilled its obligations conscientiously and meticulously. Now all Turkey can do is to expect EU members to honor their signature of Dec. 17. I believe that negotiations will begin on Oct. 3," he said.
The debate over Turkey's handling of the Cyprus issue is part of growing unease within the EU over whether to start membership talks with Ankara next month.
Many in the EU fear that the inclusion of Turkey would flood the EU market with cheap labor and that the inclusion of the overwhelmingly Muslim nation could upset the political balance in the EU.
Cyprus has been divided between Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities since Turkey sent troops to the island in 1974, following an abortive coup by supporters of union with Greece. Turkey still keeps some 35,000 troops on the island.
To overcome one of the final hurdles to talks, Turkey signed a deal extending a customs union with the EU to include the 10 countries that joined in 2004, including divided Cyprus. Yet, it insisted in a separate declaration that it still did not recognize the Cypriot government.