The American president opened up a rare crack of divergence at the EU-US summit in Prague, when he said the European Union should welcome Turkey as a full member. His comments came at a gathering intended to mend transatlantic relations after the strains of the previous administration.
Obama said Muslims must be viewed as friends and partners in fighting injustice.
“Moving forward towards Turkish membership in the EU would be an important signal of your commitment to this agenda and ensure that we continue to anchor Turkey firmly in Europe,” he said.
Turkey’s path to entry has been held up by concerns in the EU over human rights, progress on reform, and a long-standing territory dispute with Cyprus, which is already a member of the union.
The French president Nicolas Sarkozy said: “It’s for the EU member states to decide. I’ve always been opposed to this entry and I still am. And I think I can say that the vast majority of member states shares the French position. Turkey is a very great country, an ally of Europe and an ally of the US. It must remain a privileged partner. My position hasn’t changed, and it won’t change.”
The German chancellor Angela Merkel took a less decisive position, saying negotiations on the future were still underway. “I believe a close relationship between the European Union and the Muslim world – especially Turkey – is in all our interests,” she said. “How this is implemented – for example with a privileged partnership or full membership – that’s an issue we’re still debating.”
There is support among the bloc for Turkey’s membership. Italy’s prime minister Silvio Berlusconi said he backed Obama’s support. But whatever happens, membership is seen as many years off at best.