The European Union and Turkey began talks early today that could give the EU its first Muslim member after last-minute lobbying from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Austria’s dropping of its previous objections.
Although full membership is not expected for more than a decade, partly because of the skepticism among European voters, it would extend the union’s borders to Syria, Iraq and Iran.
“We have reached a historic point,” Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said in Ankara.
But European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso was more cautious, saying that the road “will be long and difficult” and that “accession, as for every country, is neither guaranteed nor automatic.”
Miss Rice called Mr. Erdogan yesterday morning and urged him to accept the EU document, said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack.
“This is something that she thought was important to do at this time—to reach out to Turkish officials, to reiterate U.S. support,” Mr. McCormack said.
Turkey has been an associate EU member since 1963. Enthusiasm about the union’s expansion has waned lately, capped by the rejection of the proposed EU constitution by French and Dutch voters earlier this year.
But the United States has been a strong advocate of Turkey’s membership.