Turkey has been eager for membership in the EU. The EU, however, has cited Turkey's underdeveloped economy and human rights violations as impediments to its entry. The EU-Turkish accession partnership agreement, finalized in November 2000, established a "road map" of human rights, democratization, and other reforms required for Turkey to formally accede to the EU. In December 2002, however, Turkey was not one of 10 new countries to be invited to join the EU.
Relations with Greece will continue to dominate Turkey's foreign policy agenda. Ever since it joined the EU in 1981, Greece traditionally opposed the entry of Turkey into the union because of the situation in Cyprus. With the support of Greece, however, the government of Cyprus sought ascension to the EU. Turkey believed that Cyprus' acceptance in the EU without an official, internationally recognized resolution to the issue of continued self-government for the Turkish Cypriots would be a violation of the rights of the latter. Although the question of the reunification of Cyprus was not resolved by early 2003, the Greek Cypriot government was accepted as an officially invited new member of the EU, with accession to take place in 2004.
Nevertheless, since mid-1999, Greek-Turkish relations have undergone significant improvement. The tragedy surrounding the major Turkish earthquake in August 1999 formed the catalyst for this thaw. Greece was among the first countries to offer aid to its traditional foe. When a smaller earthquake struck Greece the following month, Turkey reciprocated the Greek gesture. In the aftermath of the tragedies, Greece and Turkey continued a dialogue that resulted in the signing of cooperation accords in the areas of tourism and the fight against terrorism. In addition, Greece's support of the decision of the 1999 EU summit in Helsinki to place Turkey as a candidate for EU membership also helped to continue the thaw in Greece's relations with its eastern neighbor.
In January 2003, France, Germany, and Belgium blocked a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) agreement to have the alliance come to the aid of Turkey in the event of an attack from Iraq. The issue was resolved a month later, with NATO maintaining it would stand behind Turkey, but tensions within the alliance were high. This action came against the backdrop of the United Nations (UN) Security Council's resolution passed in November 2002 to have Iraq disarm itself of weapons of mass destruction and allow for the return of international weapons inspectors, and the U.S. and British-led efforts to speed that process, by force if necessary. The United States requested Turkey allow the deployment of 62,000 troops for use in a possible invasion of Iraq from the north, a decision voted down by Parliament on 1 March 2003. War began on 19 March, and Baghdad fell to U.S. forces on 9 April. Erdogan had stated the AK-led government that was voted into office in November 2002 would support a military strike against Iraq, although he stated Turkey was concerned that the territorial integrity of Iraq be preserved after a war, and that the economic effects of such a conflict should be taken into consideration. Turkey threatened to send troops into Iraq, concerned with a potential seizure of power by the 3.5 million Kurds in northern Iraq. Turkey fears the Iraqi Kurds will want to unite with Turkey's 12 million Kurds to form an independent Kurdistan.