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After Israel's Gaza flotilla raid, is Turkey rejecting Europe?

Israel's Gaza flotilla raid prompted a response in Turkey that rattled some Europeans. Turkey has been rebuffed in its efforts to join the European Union for years, and is now forging a more independent international course.

By / Staff writer / June 15, 2010

Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan (c.) pressed for EU membership while visiting France’s Nicolas Sarkozy (r.) in April. Mr. Sarkozy is opposed, saying Turkey is not part of Europe. After Israel's flotilla raid earlier this month, Turkey may be reconsidering its relationship with Europe.

Jacques Brinon/AP

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Paris

Europe has watched with some dismay Turkey's strident reaction to the fatal Israeli flotilla raid – part of what many see as a larger Turkish "repositioning" of itself on the world stage.

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While Europe also condemned the flo­tilla attack, in which Israeli commandos killed nine Turkish citizens seeking to break the economic blockade of the Gaza Strip, there's wariness here over Tur­key's emerging persona under an Islamic-rooted party and murmurs about whether it wants to reassert an old Ot­to­man Empire sphere of influence.

In the past few years, Ankara has mended ties with its neighbors, including Iran. On June 9, Turkey was one of only two countries (Brazil was the other) on the United Nations Security Council to vote against fresh Iran nuclear sanctions.

Yet part of Turkey's shift is due to the European Union's steady rebuff of the mainly Muslim state. Turkey first applied to join the EU in 1987 and waited 18 years for the process to start, which could drag past 2020. "A majority of Turks say they want to join Europe, but ... also feel it will never happen," says a senior US diplomat.

Membership has been essentially nixed by Germany's Angela Merkel and France's Nicolas Sarkozy, who says Turkey is not part of Europe. "Sarkozy has few deeply rooted beliefs, but this is one of them," says François Heisbourg of the Paris-based Foundation for Strategic Research. "He would only cave under unanimous European pressure, which won't happen."

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