EU, Turkey resume talks after 3 1/2-year hiatus

BRUSSELS (AP) - The European Union on Tuesday resumed membership talks with Turkey after they'd been stalled for 3 1/2 years, chiefly because of the country's ongoing dispute with Cyprus.

Turkey's minister for European Union affairs, Egemen Bagis, hailed the opening of negotiations in Brussels, but acknowledged much work still lies ahead.

"You cannot have the spring with only one flower," he told a joint news conference here.

EU nations delayed the negotiations this summer to protest Turkey's crackdown on street protests, which they deemed overly harsh.

The new talks focus on regional policy _ one of many outstanding issues to be settled before Turkey could join the 28-nation trade bloc. The European Union is refusing even to launch negotiations in eight other areas until Turkey opens its ports and airports to goods from Cyprus, an EU member.

Last month, the European Commission, in a report on Turkey's progress toward gaining EU membership, criticized conservative Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government for what it called its "uncompromising stance" against dissent and its failure to protect fundamental rights such as freedom of speech and assembly.

European Commissioner Stefan Fule on Tuesday said Turkey was an important partner for the European Union, but that it "hasn't yet delivered on its commitments."

"We need more engagement, not less," Fule said.

Replied Bagis: "We're not only ready to get engaged, but to get married."

The EU opened negotiations with Turkey in 2005, despite skepticism among some member states about a big Muslim nation being a good fit for the predominantly Christian grouping of countries.

By itself, Cyprus is blocking the talks in a half-dozen areas, a result of its dispute with Turkey over the status of the northern part of the island. Cyprus was split in 1974 when Turkey invaded after a coup by supporters of union with Greece. Turkish Cypriots in 1983 declared an independent northern state, which Turkey recognized.

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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