The EU's Dutch presidency clinched a deal with Turkey yesterday involving Turkish promises on Cyprus in return for Ankara winning the historic prize of a start to EU entry talks, diplomats said.
Turkish and European diplomats said that Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende had struck a deal with Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan to be presented to all 25 EU leaders, including the president of Cyprus.
Ankara late Thursday won the pledge it has been seeking in a four-decade drive to be embraced into the European fold when EU leaders offered to launch accession talks next October.
But the offer came attached with a proviso -- that Turkey relent on decades of hostility to the Greek Cypriots' internationally recognized government, effectively abandoning the Turkish Cypriots' breakaway statelet.
The demand was met with a frosty reception from Turkish diplomats but yesterday wore on, Erdogan held a series of closed-door meetings with Balkenende and other key leaders to tease out a compromise.
Balkenende separately met the EU's three leading powerbrokers -- British Prime Minister Tony Blair, French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder -- to try to break through the impasse.
Under the deal, Ankara would offer a written commitment to sign a protocol to its 1963 association accord with the EU's forerunner expanding the agreement to cover the EU's 10 newest members -- including Cyprus.
That would mean a landmark breakthrough to one of Europe's most intractable conflicts, with Ankara giving de facto recognition to the Republic of Cyprus.
Cyprus has been divided along ethnic lines since Turkish troops invaded its northern part in 1974 to stave off a bid to unite the island with Greece.
"Turkey and the Dutch presidency have agreed on a text of the conclusions" to the EU summit, a Turkish diplomat said.
A French diplomatic source said the agreement involved Turkey making a commitment to signing the protocol to the 1963 Ankara Agreement, but that the EU was no longer demanding that Erdogan initial the document yesterday.
The fast-moving EU summit had threatened to unravel after Turkey dug in its heels over the demands attached to the offer of talks next year, which Cyprus aside also contain a raft of conditions unprecedented for an EU candidate.
Once the talks are completed, probably in a decade, Turkey would become the first majority-Muslim nation inside the bloc.
But according to their draft conclusions, the EU leaders were to say that Turkey's accession "cannot be guaranteed beforehand," all the while promising to anchor the country in Europe "through the strongest possible bond." Moreover, the negotiations could be broken off in "case of a serious and persistent breach" of democratic principles, said the draft text on Turkey, which has suffered three military coups since its foundation in 1923.
Meanwhile, the EU was poised yesterday to give the final green light for Bulgaria and Romania to join the bloc in 2007 and to open accession talks with Croatia in April next year if the ex-Yugoslav republic cooperated fully with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.