July 20, 2006 3:00 am

Anti-west backlash is gathering pace, warns Turkish minister

Hesitation over Turkish membership of the European Union and US policies in the Middle East are causing an anti-western backlash in Turkey, the foreign minister warned yesterday.

In a wide-ranging interview with the Financial Times, Abdullah Gül said failure to resolve the dispute in Cyprus was "poisoning" the process for negotiating Turkey's membership of the EU, while US support for Israel's actions in Lebanon would have a backlash across the Middle East region.

"Moderate liberal people [in Turkey] are becoming anti-American and anti-EU," he said. "If our young, dynamic, educated and economically active people become bitter, if their attitudes and feelings are changed, it is not good. Their feeling has changed towards these global policies and strategic issues. This is dangerous."

Turkey has also warned the US and Iraqi governments that they must stop the cross-border operations of Kurdish guerrillas who claimed the lives of 14 Turkish soldiers at the weekend, or Turkey will be forced to take action itself.

Mr Gül said the PKK separatists were armed with remote-controlled explosives and weapons obtained in Iraq, including from the Iraqi army.

"This is very dangerous," he said. "We cannot tolerate this. Definitely we will use all our rights under international law.

"Of course we understand the Iraqi government's position, but if they are not able to control their land, they should not hesitate to co-operate with us.

"If they cannot stop it, we will have to take action. That is clear."

On the EU negotiations, launched last October 3, he said excellent progress was being made in technical preparations, with pre-negotiation screening now completed for 29 of the 35 "chapters" that are involved.

But the problem lay in the unresolved conflict over Cyprus, and in preparing public opinion for Turkish accession, both inside Turkey and in the member states of the EU.

The EU member states have insisted that Turkey open its ports to direct trade with Greek Cyprus as part of the customs union it has with the whole union. But Mr Gül said it would be impossible to win approval in the Turkish parliament unless the Cypriots also lifted their veto on any direct trade with the Turkish enclave of northern Cyprus.

"We have been asked to lift our restrictions [on Cypriot ships], but all the isolation should continue on the Turkish side," he said. "This is impossible. No elected government in Turkey can do this."

He said that the Council of Ministers in Brussels had agreed to end the isolation of northern Cyprus on the eve of EU enlargement on May 1 2004, when Cyprus joined the union. But the move had been blocked ever since.

"We must get rid of this problem," he said. It was necessary to prepare public opinion, both in Turkey and in the EU member states, for Turkish membership. "This process is going on, but the Cyprus question is always poisoning the issue."

Mr Gül said the danger of failing to reach a Cyprus settlement was "the global impact. Because of thisproblem, wider co-operation is being shut off", including co-operation on security issues, such as fighting terrorism.

He said his government was strongly backing the latest effort by the United Nations to relaunch the peace process in Cyprus, with a proposal to set up technical committees to deal with cross-border questions such as crime.

The UN has asked the Greek side at the same time to spell out its objections to the Annan plan that was rejected by the Greek population in a referendum in 2004.

He warned that some EU member states seemed to be hiding behind the Cyprus issue to delay negotiations on Turkish EU membership.

On the wider Middle East, Mr Gül warned that Israeli actions in Lebanon would have a negative effect across the region, in Iraq and Afghanistan. US support for Israel did not help solve the problem.

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