Turkey warms to France as genocide law abandoned

Reuters News
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Posted: Jul 05, 2012 12:59 PM
Turkey warms to France as genocide law abandoned

PARIS (Reuters) - Turkey's foreign minister hailed the opening of a warmer phase in relations with France on Thursday as a French law on the mass killing of Armenians in 1915 was abandoned, but he received no support for a Turkish bid to join the European Union.

Ahmet Davutoglu was visiting France for the first time since the election in May of President Francois Hollande, who Turkish officials hoped might be more open to the prospect of Ankara's EU bid than predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy.

Davutoglu sought to clear the air in the wake of the row over a French law that would have made it illegal to deny that the killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks in 1915 amounted to genocide.

Ankara canceled all economic, political and military meetings with Paris in December after France's lower house of parliament voted in favor of the draft law.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said the law, which was rejected by France's highest court in February as contrary to free speech, was unlikely to be resurrected.

But Fabius skirted the question of Ankara's bid to join the European Union, which was launched in 2005 but has virtually ground to a halt due to a dispute over the island of Cyprus.

"The French government is examining a number of matters inherited from the previous government," he said at a joint news conference.

Fabius hinted that EU membership for Turkey would be put to a referendum, as anticipated by a 2008 constitutional amendment which can nonetheless be overruled by parliament.

"At the end of the day, things will come down to the decision of the people," he said.

Hollande, while running for president this year, answered a question about Turkey's accession to the EU by saying: "It will not happen during the next five-year term."

Turkey would only enter the EU once it fulfils all 35 membership criteria, 14 of which are blocked due to Turkey's refusal to recognize Greek Cypriot sovereignty on the island.

Cyprus has been divided between the Greek Cypriot south and the Turkish north since a Greek coup followed by a Turkish army invasion in 1974. Efforts to reunite the island have so far failed and Turkey is the only nation that recognizes the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

Cyprus, which joined the EU in 2005, took over the bloc's presidency on July 1, prompting Ankara to say it would suspend relations with the EU presidency during the six-month term.

(Reporting By Nicholas Vinocur; Editing by Janet Lawrence)