Italy says EU must honour Turkey membership pledge

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ISTANBUL, Nov 22 (Reuters) Italy's foreign minister said today the European Union must stand by its promise to admit Turkey when it has met all the conditions of membership.

Italy has long been a staunch supporter of Turkey's EU bid but some member states, notably France, Germany and Austria, have suggested the large Muslim country be offered some form of special partnership instead.

''Turkey must of course meet the necessary criteria for membership and in the end it will become a member ... This is an EU decision and we in the EU must comply with our own decisions,'' Massimo D'Alema told a forum on bilateral relations.

D'Alema criticised the stance of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who argues that Turkey is not geographically in Europe and should be denied full membership even if it completes the accession negotiations.

The prospect of eventual EU membership has helped create a more attractive climate for foreign investors in Turkey. Foreign direct investment is expected to reach 25 billion dollars this year.

D'Alema, once a critic of Turkey's EU bid, said bilateral trade between Turkey and Italy now exceeded 15 billion dollars.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan told the forum the timing of Turkey's EU accession hinged on the speed of its reforms. He has been quoted this week as saying Ankara planned more reforms in the coming months but he has given no details.

Turkey began EU accession talks in October 2005 but the negotiations have moved slowly amid disputes over Cyprus, freedom of expression and other human rights issues. It is not seen joining the bloc before 2015 at the earliest.

REUTERS PD KN1842

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