ANKARA (Reuters) - Britain’s new Foreign Secretary David Miliband on Wednesday reaffirmed London’s support for Turkey’s bid to join the European Union and also urged the Muslim country to play a bigger role in the Middle East.
“It is the absolute determination of the new (British) government led by Gordon Brown that we will continue to play that role (of championing Turkey’s EU bid),” Miliband told a joint news conference with Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan.
“Shared institutions matter a lot and we want the European Union to be a shared institution of which Britain and Turkey are full and equal members,” said Miliband, who took up his job after Brown replaced Tony Blair as prime minister in July.
He said Turkey, a large NATO ally on the borders of the Middle East region, had much to offer Europe in the areas of energy and security and was particularly well placed to help in stabilising neighbouring Iraq.
Miliband is the first foreign minister to visit Ankara since the formation of a new Turkish government after July elections.
Turkey began EU membership talks in October 2005 but its reform drive has flagged amid disputes with the 27-nation bloc over Cyprus and human rights.
The EU hopes Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s re-elected AK Party government will relaunch the reforms now it has secured another large parliamentary majority.
Babacan, who is also Turkey’s EU chief negotiator, was named foreign minister last week after his predecessor, Abdullah Gul, was elected president by the country’s parliament.
Miliband was due to meet Gul and Erdogan separately in Ankara on Wednesday and then to deliver a speech in Istanbul on relations between Turkey and the EU.