Austria says Turkey's EU membership talks should go ahead

(dpa) - Austrian Foreign Minister Ursala Plassnik on Monday pledged to keep open European Union membership negotiations with Turkey, but stressed that Austria's position was that the result of the talks would not necessarily mean that Turkey will join the union.

Speaking at a joint press conference in Ankara with her Turkish counterpart Ali Babacan, Plassnik said it was important that accession talks continue and that the door is not shut on Turkey but that the talks would not necessarily lead to full membership.

"Our goal is to have Turkey as a stable modern dynamic, successful partner, as close a partner of the European Union as is imaginable," Plassnik said.

"We are aware that for the Turkish side, the one and only exclusive goal is membership in the European Union. I have been trying to enlarge the scope of imagination on that specific point ... I could imagine a tailor-made Turkey-European Union community."

Babacan repeated that Turkey's aim was full membership and refused to be drawn on alternatives. He stressed that any decision on Turkish membership would occur in the future and that continued people-to- people ties would result in public opinion in Europe supporting Turkish membership.

"The membership decision will not be made on yesterday's Turkey or today's Turkey, but on the Turkey of the future. It is too early," Babacan said.

On the issue of the potential closure by the Turkish Constitutional Court of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) for allegedly becoming a focus of anti-secular activities, a topic that has led to criticism from the European Union of the Turkish legal system, Plassnik said that the EU should not act as a police officer. It was up to Turkey to debate the role of secularism in society.

Babacan refused to speculate on what might happen if his party is closed down, merely saying that he believed Turkey would find a solution.

"This year our country will go through other tests but I believe our country will pass these tests," Babacan said.

The two foreign ministers said they had agreed to enhance co- operation against terrorism with Plassnik making it clear that Austria considered the separatist Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK) a terrorist organization.

"We are fighting against terrorism with the same determination as others," Plassnik said in response to a question that Austria had last year allowed a senior PKK member to flee to Iraq. "I regret that in the Turkish media there was a wrong impression concerning Austria's determination to fight terrorism, including the PKK."

Turkish media condemned Austria's actions last year when it allegedly allowed Riza Altun, a senior PKK representative in Europe, to escape to Iraq despite the fact he was wanted by Turkey. The actions of the Austrian government in allowing Altun to go free were also condemned by the Turkish Foreign Ministry.

During their talks, the ministers also discussed a number of regional and international matters.

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