Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu expressed confidence Friday that he could finalize a contentious new plan with the European Union aimed at stemming migration flows to Europe, as he arrived to hear the proposal agreed by the bloc's leaders.
The plan is the EU's latest effort to end a surge of migrants and asylum seekers that saw more than 1 million people reach European shores last year. Most crossed the Aegean Sea from Turkey to Greece, aiming to then move on to wealthy northern countries.
The EU wants to recruit Ankara's help in dissuading migrants from crossing the Aegean and instead having them wait to be resettled in an orderly fashion out of Turkey.
In exchange, Ankara is seeking further refugee aid, as well as progress on visa-free access to the bloc for its citizens and on EU membership for the country.
"I am sure we will be achieving our goal to help all the refugees, as well as to deepen Turkish-EU relations," Davutoglu said in Brussels, while stressing that these issues are not a trade-off.
"For us, for Turkey, the refugee issue is not an issue of bargaining but an issue of value – humanitarian values as well as European values," he added.
On Thursday, the EU's 28 leaders agreed on their common negotiating position, during eight hours of summit talks ahead of Davutoglu's late-night arrival in the Belgian capital.
Negotiations kicked off Friday with a meeting of Davutoglu with EU President Donald Tusk, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, whose country holds the EU's rotating presidency.
More talks among EU leaders could follow, if needed, an EU source said Thursday on condition of anonymity. They were told to be ready to convene at short notice.
Before the summit, Tusk said he was "cautiously optimistic" about finalizing the new deal with Turkey this week. But Friday's talks are expected to be thorny, with several political minefields in the plan.
"The proposed package is very complicated, will be very difficult to implement, and it is on the edge of international law," Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite warned on Thursday afternoon.
"It will certainly be not entirely easy negotiations tomorrow," German Chancellor Angela Merkel said after the first day of talks.
Legal concerns focus on a planned migrant swap that would see the EU send Syrian asylum seekers from Greek islands back to Turkey, as part of a bid to undercut migrant smuggling networks.
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