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Turkey not ready for EU membership: Germany

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(BERLIN) - Turkey is far from ready for full EU membership but for economic and security reasons it is vital that Ankara be "on Europe's side," Germany's foreign minister was quoted as saying on Tuesday.

"If the question had to be decided today, Turkey would not be ready for membership and the EU would not be ready to absorb it," Guido Westerwelle told the Bild daily ahead of a visit to Turkey beginning Wednesday.

"But we have a big interest in Turkey turning in Europe's direction. I want a Turkey that is on Europe's side. Not just for economic reasons.

"The country can also provide very constructive help in resolving many conflicts, whether it be Afghanistan, Iran, Yemen or the Middle East."

He added: "Out of the more than 30 (EU negotiation) chapters over half are blocked at the moment. Anyone who has the impression that membership is just around the corner is way off the mark.

"In reality it is about not offending the Turks and not creating the impression that we are not interested in them."

Westerwelle's comments came after Robert Gates, US defence secretary, accused Europe in June of "refusing to give Turkey the kind of organic link to the West that Turkey sought."

That came after Turkey voted against fresh UN sanctions on Iran over its nuclear programme and relations with Israel worsened dramatically after an Israeli operation on a Gaza-bound aid ship left nine Turks dead.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy have argued that Turkey should be offered a "privileged partnership" rather than full EU membership.

Elections in Germany in September saw Merkel forming a coalition with the business-friendly Free Democrats (FDP), led by Westerwelle, who succeeded in softening somewhat her position.

Germany's official position remained that Turkey is not yet ready to join, membership is neither automatic nor guaranteed and the EU must be able to absorb it.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said in a speech in Ankara on Tuesday that he was "angry" that Turkey's progress towards membership has been "frustrated."

"I believe it's just wrong to say Turkey can guard the camp but not be allowed to sit inside the tent," added the British leader, on his first visit to Turkey since taking office.

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