updated 9/29/2005 9:52:29 AM ET 2005-09-29T13:52:29

European Union foreign ministers will hold emergency talks this weekend aimed at overcoming Austrian objections to starting entry talks with Turkey, after their envoys failed to reach agreement Thursday, diplomats said.

Austria held to its position that Turkey be offered the option of a lesser partnership rather than full membership in negotiations which are scheduled to start on Monday.

All 25 EU nations have to agree on a negotiating mandate before talks can begin with Ankara.

The deadlock will put further strain on ties with Ankara which is growing increasingly restless over attempts by several EU nations to put the brakes on opening negotiations.

A British EU presidency spokesman confirmed the EU foreign ministers will hold talks on Sunday in Luxembourg, on the eve of the planned opening of negotiations with Turkey.

“Twenty-four EU countries could accept the text,” said the British official, who refused to be named, due to the sensitivity of the talks. He added that bilateral talks would continue between London and Vienna to try and get Austria to back down from its demands.

Britain and other EU nations fear that adding changes demanded by Austria will unravel an already cautiously-agreed to deal between EU leaders last December, when they decided to open talks with Turkey, with the only goal of full membership.

“It’s not a question of drafting, but its a political issue,” said an EU diplomat.

European milestone
Austria is the most ardent opponent of Turkey’s membership arguing the country is too big and unready to join the EU. It has also linked the issue to Croatia’s EU entry bid.

Diplomats said Britain and other member states were unlikely to yield to demands to drop guarantees in the EU’s negotiating mandate — which lays out the rules and a lose timeframe — that the goal of those talks is full membership.

The draft mandate states the “shared objective of the negotiations is accession,” but adds they are “open-ended.” It does not mention a partnership as an alternative option.

The membership talks will be a milestone for Europe and predominantly Muslim Turkey, which has been knocking on the EU’s door since 1963. EU leaders agreed to open accession talks with Turkey last year.

If EU foreign ministers fail to get a deal Sunday, the opening of talks would be delayed as the EU needs to present a negotiating guidebook for talks to begin.

It would inevitably lead to a rupture in already tense relations between Ankara and Brussels.

Link to Croatia
In Vienna, Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel maintained his country’s tough line on Turkey.

In an interview with two European newspapers, Schuessel said talks with Turkey should only start if separate membership talks with Croatia are also restarted.

Negotiations with Zagreb were frozen until it meets EU demands it fully cooperate in handing over a top war crimes suspect to the U.N. war crimes tribunal.

Austria says its people — and many others across the bloc — do not support full membership for Turkey and is demanding that Ankara be given the option of privileged partnership rather than full membership. Turkey has already rejected anything less than full membership talks.

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