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Bush Says U.S. Side-By-Side with Turkey on EU

   

President Bush, left, gestures as he participates in a meeting with Recep Tayyip Erdogan, center, the leader of Turkey\'s ruling AK Party, with Secretary of State Colin Powell, left, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2002 in Washington. The Bush administration is aggressively courting the Turkish leader, aware of the country\'s importance to U.S. plans for possible war against Turkey\'s southern neighbor, Iraq. Turkey, in turn, badly needs Washington. It wants Bush\'s backing forEuropean Union membership as the EU meets this week to discuss expansion. Erdogan was meeting with Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice.

WASHINGTON - President Bush said on Tuesday the United States was \"side-by-side\" with Turkey in its struggle to join the European Union, offering moral support on the issue to a nation that would be a key ally in the event of a war with Iraq.

Bush met Turkey\'s new leader, Tayyip Erdogan, in the White House Roosevelt Room, moving quickly to grant Erdogan some time now that his party has taken power. Erdogan was essentially ignored by the Bush team on a visit to Washington earlier this year, before the Nov. 3 victory of his Justice and Development Party, known as AKP.

\"We join you side-by-side in your desire to become a member of the European Union,\" Bush said as he sat next to Erdogan.

Erdogan has accused the wealthy 15-nation European Union of being hypocritical in insisting Turkey improve human rights and democracy before it can open negotiations on EU membership.

Turkey shares a border with Iraq. In the event of a U.S.-led war against Baghdad, Ankara\'s willingness to let coalition forces use bases on its territory could prove crucial, especially due to doubts about whether Saudi Arabia would allow the use of its bases.

In their talks Bush reiterated that Washington expected Iraq to emerge with its borders intact in the event of a war, the White House said. The Bush administration has expressed concern in recent months that Turkey could grab a Kurdish section of Iraq during a war.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer would not characterize Erdogan\'s response to Bush\'s statement on Iraqi borders, other than to say it was a positive meeting.

Erdogan said he and Bush discussed Iraq. \"We focused on peace, on solving this issue peacefully,\" he said.

In Brussels, the European Union moved closer on Tuesday to giving Turkey a conditional date for entry talks. EU foreign ministers backed a plan to open talks with Turkey in July 2005 if it passes a human rights review in late 2004, terms that Turkey called unacceptable.

\"We see our bid to European Union membership as the most important modernization project of our country since the establishment of the republic. This will serve as a great jump-start for democracy -- enhancement of democracy,\" Erdogan said.

To Bush, he said: \"We are aware of your support on this matter, and we are very appreciative of this. But it shouldn\'t end here. We expect that to continue.\"

Bush said: \"We\'re working hard on Turkey\'s behalf.\"

After the meeting, Erdogan told reporters on the White House driveway that he urged Bush to make another round of calls making Turkey\'s case for EU membership.

Fleischer said Bush hoped the European Union would give serious consideration to Turkey.

\"The president differs strongly with anybody in Europe who has suggested that because of Turkey\'s background Turkey would not qualify. The president does not think that that should be a disqualification,\" he said.

Valery Giscard d\'Estaing, head of the EU\'s constitutional convention, said last month Turkey was not European and that its entry would mark the end of the European Union. He retreated from that stance on Sunday.

Turkey has asked the United States to provide financial aid to help protect the Turkish economy in the event of a war against Iraq.

The Bush administration is considering providing up to $800 million annually over five years in economic assistance. The sale of U.S.-made Black Hawk attack helicopters was also being discussed.
  

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