AMSTERDAM, Netherlands – Turkey insisted Thursday that it has fulfilled conditions for European Union (search) membership, as foreign ministers of the 25-nation group started meeting here to assess the predominantly Muslim nation's efforts to join the bloc.
The EU has imposed tough conditions on membership for Turkey, a nation of 70 million. Among other things it must recognize Cyprus (search), improve it economy and limit the military's influence in politics.
Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said in Ankara before leaving for the EU talks in Wales that Ankara "has fulfilled its obligations conscientiously and meticulously" and the EU must agree to start negotiations on Turkey's membership on Oct. 3 as it agreed last December.
"Now all Turkey can do is to expect EU members to honor their signature of Dec. 17." he said.
In the biggest sticking point, the EU wants Turkey to recognize Cyprus, as Cyprus will need to approve eventual membership for Turkey.
On July 29 Turkey signed an accord extending its customs union with the European Union to Cyprus and other new EU members — a key step toward opening membership talks with the bloc.
Cyprus has been divided between Greek Cypriot (search) and Turkish Cypriot (search) communities since Turkey sent troops to the island in 1974, following an abortive coup by supporters of union with Greece. Turkey still has some 35,000 troops on the island.
At the ministers' meeting, Austria proposed offering Turkey less than full membership in the European block because it will not recognize EU member Cyprus. Officials said the idea was brushed aside.
Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik proposed that negotiations aim for a privileged relationship for Turkey rather than full membership.
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, whose country holds the EU presidency, said he was "fully confident" entry talks with Turkey will begin on Oct. 3.
The EU foreign ministers area also trying to find a way to restart talks with Iran over its nuclear program.
European negotiators have so far failed to persuade Iran to give up some nuclear activities that can be used to make weapons.
Tehran recently rejected economic and other incentives offered by Britain, France and Germany — negotiating on behalf of the EU — and resumed activity related to uranium enrichment.
France called on Iran early this week to cooperate in nuclear talks or risk having the issue sent to the U.N. Security Council, which has the power to impose sanctions.
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, who is hosting the EU meeting, is expected to push Iran to continue the talks if it wants avoid being called before the Security Council.
The EU faces pressure from Washington, which accuses Tehran of using its civilian nuclear program as a cover to secretly develop nuclear weapons. Tehran insists the program is only for generating electricity.
In August, Iran restarted uranium conversion, an early stage on the nuclear fuel cycle that precedes enrichment. Highly enriched uranium can be used to make weapons. At lower levels, it is used in power generation.