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Turkey belongs in Europe - EU president Spain

BERLIN (Reuters) - European Union president Spain feels that Turkey belongs in the 27-country bloc, Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos said in an interview published Sunday.

Moratinos said negotiations to admit candidate Turkey could be successfully completed if it met the so-called Copenhagen criteria -- covering such areas as democracy, human rights and the rule of law -- which is required for membership.

“It would bring Europe more advantages than drawbacks. There may be difference of opinions between EU member states (over Turkish membership), but all have agreed to wait and watch the negotiations,” Moratinos told Germany’s Welt am Sonntag newspaper.

Spain, which holds the EU presidency until the end of June, hopes to open accession talks with Ankara in four new policy areas and see progress in a dispute between Turkey and Cyprus which is blocking Ankara’s bid.

“Turkey is a part of the European family of peoples. It is better to have Turkey inside the EU than to leave it standing outside,” Moratinos said.

He added that the EU considers Turkey a partner of high strategic importance, specifically mentioning its diplomatic network in the Middle East and central Asia.

Turning to the Middle East, Moratinos said that bringing a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was the most important challenge for the Spanish presidency, adding that he felt both parties wanted to negotiate but needed encouragement.

“Europe must push this forward and work so that the peaceful two-state solution becomes reality, and as soon as possible. A year is the maximum timeframe,” he said.

Peace in that conflict could have a ripple effect throughout the region, including in Iran, he said, which would remain a challenge for European diplomacy.

The United States and major European Union states say Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons under the cover of its civilian atomic program, a claim denied by Tehran, which says its nuclear activities are purely civilian.

“We still hope the (Iranian) leadership reacts positively to the offers of the international community -- above all to the outstretched hand of the U.S. President,” Moratinos said.

Iran’s failure to meet an effective U.S. deadline of December 31 to accept a United Nations-brokered proposal to send its uranium abroad for processing has prompted six world powers to start considering possible tougher sanctions against Tehran.

If Tehran continues to reject overtures, the international community should take diplomatic action, as should the U.N. Security Council, but military options should be ruled out, Moratinos said.

Writing by Brian Rohan; Editing by Elizabeth Fullerton