German Chancellor Angela Merkel promised on Friday that Germany would remain committed to European Union promises made to Turkey even though her conservative party is still skeptical about the country joining the bloc.
Before she became chancellor, Merkel and her Christian Democrats had called for a "privileged partnership" for Turkey with the EU instead of full membership _ a proposal which Ankara strongly rejected.
The German government _ a coalition between the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats who favor Turkey joining the EU _ now supports membership talks.
But the proposal of offering Ankara something less than full membership would still be preferable, Merkel said, adding that negotiations with Turkey will be a "long road."
"There is no change of mind _ the position of the (Christian Democratic) Union remains that we would see a privileged partnership as a more correct result," Merkel told ARD television during her visit to Ankara.
"We always say that these negotiations are being conducted with an open result _ they are still right at the beginning, and so a long road lies ahead of us at the end of which the decision will have to be made what the result is," she said.
Several EU countries have voiced concerns over allowing Turkey to join the 25-nation bloc, and some _ including leaders in France and Austria _ have backed the "privileged partnership" idea.
There is widespread concern within Europe about admitting a predominantly Muslim country with a large population that is relatively poor and has a questionable record on human rights and democracy.
Many are also questioning the EU's readiness to expand again after it added 10 new nations in 2004 and is to see Bulgaria and Romania join next year.
Support for the EU inside Turkey is dwindling with many Turkey angered by what they perceive as never ending stumbling blocks placed on Turkey's EU path.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday called on European nations to extend Turkey the same "interest and support" they gave other countries that joined recently.
Merkel arrived in Turkey on Thursday for a visit aimed at driving home the EU's demand that Ankara lift its trade embargo against Cyprus. She said Turkey must open its ports and airports to the EU member, but Erdogan ruled out the possibility unless an international embargo against a breakaway Turkish Cypriot state in the north of the island was lifted.
The island has been split into a Greek Cypriot south and a Turkish-occupied north since a 1974 Turkish invasion sparked by a coup aiming to unite the island with Greece. Only Turkey recognizes the breakaway state in the north, and although the island joined the EU in 2004, the bloc's benefits essentially only extend to the internationally recognized south.
Merkel called for calm in the debate over Turkey's place in the EU.
"Let us not encourage those who see emotions more than facts," she said, adding that the EU would not impose new conditions on the country.
Later Friday, Merkel and Erdogan met with Muslim and Christian religious leaders, including Patriarch Bartholomew I, the spiritual leader of the world's more than 200 million Orthodox Christians, to encourage dialogue between religions.
German officials said Merkel was expected to raise the question of the Greek Orthodox theological seminary on the island of Heybeliada, known as Halki in Greek. Turkey closed the seminary to new students in 1971 and the EU has pressed for it to reopen.
Merkel said after meeting the religious leaders that they agreed "that where problems arise, these problems must be tackled."
"We agreed that violence must never be caused in the name of religions," she said.
Erdogan said the discussion with religious leaders was "a very fruitful meeting at a time when the world most needs peace."
Jan Techau, an analyst from the German Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin, said Merkel's visit was difficult because both the EU and Turkey are entrenched in their positions on Cyprus.
"It's so entrenched _ we haven't seen strong rhetoric and that's a success. Plus, we have seen a deescalation in the tone of the debate," Techau said.
"It was a diplomatic high wire act and she pulled it off quite well," Techau said.