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Westerwelle plays nice in Turkey

BERLIN, Jan. 8 (UPI) -- German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle during his trip to Turkey boosted the country's hopes for EU membership.

Westerwelle Thursday in Ankara underlined Germany's unconditional commitment to Turkey's EU accession process and urged the country to continue on its reform process.

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The statement might not sound dramatic but it has uncovered a rift in the German government, which is a key player in the 27-member European Union.

Westerwelle's Free Democrats are the junior partner in a coalition with Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union. Merkel, backed by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, has advocated granting Turkey a privileged partnership instead of full EU membership, citing the body's expansion fatigue.The Bavarian half of the CDU on Friday even called for scrapping accession talks altogether.

Reminded of the CDU's critical position regarding Turkey's EU membership, Westerwelle answered unwavering:

"I am speaking here not as a tourist in shorts but as a member of the coalition government. What I say counts."

The foreign minister made it clear he thinks an EU member Turkey could play a stabilizing role in the region.

"Turkey is surrounded by the most problematic region of the world," Westerwelle said Friday, the Anatolian news agency reported. "As Germany, we have a great interest in Turkey … the visit to Turkey is not a coincidence. It is a symbol."

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Yet he also said Turkey, to gain entry into the club, needed to be willing to find a compromise in a row with Cyprus.

The popular Mediterranean tourist destination has been divided into a Republic of Cyprus -- the Greek Cypriot south -- and a Turkish-occupied north since a 1974 Turkish invasion. Ankara does not recognize the Republic of Cyprus, an EU member. Its ships and planes are banned from Turkish ports and airports. Until these differences are resolved, it seems impossible for Turkey to join the EU.

Westerwelle arrived in Turkey Wednesday and visited Ankara and Istanbul Thursday and Friday for meetings with his counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu, President Abdullah Gul and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Germany has a 3 million-strong Turkish minority, the largest outside Turkey.

Westerwelle left for Saudi Arabia on Friday and is also to visit Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

It's his first multi-country trip as foreign minister. Westerwelle's bilaterals will focus on issues such as the Middle East peace process, Iran's alleged nuclear weapons program, the volatile security in Afghanistan and the threat from terrorism cells in Yemen.

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