British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw backed starting EU membership talks with Turkey, saying Sunday that blocking Turkey's entry to the EU risks deepening divisions between mostly Christian and mostly Muslim nations.
"We're concerned about a so-called clash of civilizations," Straw told British Broadcasting Corp. television. "We're concerned about this theological-political divide, which could open up even further down the boundary between so-called Christian-heritage states and those of Islamic heritage.
"We need to see Turkey in the European Union and not pushed the other way," Straw added.
Membership negotiations with Turkey had long been set to begin Monday, but Austria has raised a last-minute objection to opening entry talks with the predominantly Muslim nation, and has suggested the EU consider a "privileged partnership" instead.
Straw was to travel to Luxembourg later Sunday for an emergency meeting of EU foreign ministers aimed at convincing Austria to drop its objection.
"We want Turkey to join the EU because it is a European country," Straw told BBC TV. "It has been promised membership of the European Union for the last 42 years.
"We've repeated that promise five times in the last 10 years. And in December 2004 and in June of this year, (EU leaders) unanimously said that negotiations ought to start tomorrow, the aim of the negotiations is full membership."
Britain is the current holder of the rotating EU presidency.