Turkey accepts pope's efforts to soothe anger over remarks on Islam

Turkey has accepted Pope Benedict XVI's efforts to make amends for his recent remarks on Islam and violence, a top Turkish official said Thursday in Rome.

"We thought the words were unfortunate, but, on the other hand, we (have accepted) the pope's corrective attempts," said Ali Babacan, Turkey's economy minister and chief EU negotiator.

Benedict is planning to visit Turkey, in what would be his first papal pilgrimage to a predominantly Muslim country, in late November.

Babacan praised a meeting this week between the pope and Muslim representatives, organized by the Vatican at the pope's summer residence and attended by Turkey's ambassador to the Holy See.

"The situation is right now much more comfortable," Babacan said after a meeting with Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema.

On Wednesday, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan called Benedict's expressions of regret "maneuvers," and said the Turkish president would set him straight on Islam when the pontiff visited Turkey in November.

Benedict has expressed deep regrets for offending Muslims by his remarks, quoting a Medieval-era Byzantine emperor during a Sept. 12 speech in Germany. Insisting that the remarks did not reflect his personal view, Benedict said he has esteem for Islam and called for dialogue between Christians and Muslims.

Babacan said that negotiations for Turkey's EU membership were a key element of that dialogue, as the secular Muslim country could act as a bridge between the West and Islam. "This is at the core of Turkey's accession process," he said.

The European Parliament warned Wednesday that Turkey's refusal to allow Greek Cypriot ships and planes to enter its ports could halt the accession talks.

Top EU officials have urged Ankara to recognize Cyprus, as well as to make progress in protecting freedom of expression and in addressing difficulties faced by ethnic minorities, such as Kurds, reports AP.

D'Alema said the latest criticism brought by the European Parliament must be accepted. But he also urged the EU to favor negotiations, saying that closing the door on Ankara's accession would be a "betrayal of the EU spirit."

Italy has long supported Turkey's EU bid, and D'Alema insisted Turkey's membership "would be a positive development, particularly in the face of a risk of a clash of civilizations."