The agreement between EU member Cyprus - which insists that Turkey recognise its government well ahead of the end membership talks - and Britain, the country holding the rotating EU presidency, was tabled early on Wednesday at a meeting of the 25 EU ambassadors.

"It seems that today we reached a satisfactory conclusion," Cyprus government spokesman Kypros Chrysostomides said on Wednesday.

An EU diplomat at those talks also said it was clear there would be no need for an extraordinary meeting of EU foreign ministers next Monday, another indication a full agreement was imminent.

EU ambassadors are in a race to prepare a negotiating position for the entry talks with Turkey with just two weeks before the accession talks are to begin on 3 October.

Up to Wednesday, Austria was still appealing for clarification on the EU's proposed negotiating guidelines. Vienna wants to make clear that the outcome of the talks does not guarantee full membership for Turkey, leaving open the possibility of a lesser "partnership" with the EU.

Cypriot misgivings

"After hard work, cooperation with the Greek government and other states, we achieved a text which satisfies our side; it satisfies our basic expectations"

Kypros Chrysostomides,
Cyprus spokesman  

On Tuesday, Cypriot officials raised last-minute misgivings over Britain's insistence that the issue of Turkey's refusal to recognise Cyprus be put aside.

"After hard work, cooperation with the Greek government and other states, we achieved a text which satisfies our side; it satisfies our basic expectations," Chrysostomides said.

"Our side has given its consent, and procedures are expected to be completed within the next few hours," he added.

A Cypriot diplomat said the breakthrough came when Nicosia obtained assurances from British diplomats that Turkey's recognition of Cyprus would become part of the negotiating process and would not be pushed aside until the end of the talks, which could last a dozen years.

The official also said Turkey would be asked to cooperate in making Cyprus a member in international institutions covering technical issues such as air traffic and customs.

Negiotiations

It also would be made clear that Turkey would not be negotiating with the EU as a whole but with all 25 EU member states.

Cyprus has been divided since a 1974 abortive coup by supporters of the union with Greece prompted an invasion by Turkish troops. Turkish soldiers still occupy the north of the island in support of the breakaway Turkish-Cypriot government.

Turkey refuses to recognise the island's government, which effectively controls only the Greek Cypriot south. Ankara said an agreement it signed in July to widen its customs union with the EU to include Cyprus and nine other new EU members did not amount to recognition of the Greek-Cypriot government.

It argues that it has fulfilled all requirements to secure a date to open EU entry talks, and now expects Europe to carry through on its word.