Turkey thanks Washington over EU entry talks

"The support of the US to Turkey during the ... negotiation...is clear, natural and right."

Turkish leaders have thanked the United States for intervening on Turkey's behalf during diplomatic wrangling that resulted in the European Union opening membership talks with Turkey. "The support of the US to Turkey during the ... negotiation period with the EU is clear, natural and right. We are pleased about it," Foreign Ministry Spokesman Namik Tan said Wednesday. He said Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul spoke with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Tuesday. Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos on Tuesday had dismissed suggestions that the EU's decision on the talks had been influenced by diplomatic pressure from the United States. "The US had nothing to do with the decision," he told journalists before addressing the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly. "The EU worked hard toward making this historic step." A senior official said the United States helped Turkey's cause by emphasizing Turkey's strategic importance and the benefits of having an overwhelmingly Muslim country firmly anchored to the West. According to the official, Rice told Gul that Turkish-US ties would grow ever stronger, and said she was happy about any "modest" contribution she might have made in the EU decision to open Turkey's membership negotiations on Tuesday. "The United States is a superpower that has global responsibilities, in this sense it is supporting any initiative that it believes will contribute to the world," Tan said. "The United States emphasizes the message of 'European Turkey' as a means of overcoming the difficulties of the region and the people of the region," he said. "In this respect the United States gave Turkey strong support." Before opening the membership talks, the 25-nation bloc's members held two days of arduous meetings to overcome objections by Austria, which has concerns over taking in a large and poor country. The United States has strongly backed Turkey's candidacy throughout the years, as US-Turkish relations slowly recover after Turkey refused to let US troops or warplanes operate from Turkey during the Iraq invasion. Washington also has showcased Turkey as an example of a Muslim country that is not only pro-Western, but also secular and democratic. But US intervention on behalf of Turkey has backfired in the past, with some European leaders making no secret of their irritation with US meddling. Last year, such intervention triggered a frosty exchange between President George W. Bush, and French President Jacques Chirac. "It's a bit like if I told the United States how they should manage their relations with Mexico," Chirac said at the time.