Germany on Monday dashed hopes of reopening Turkey's EU accession bid this week by proposing talks be delayed for four months to underline disappointment over Ankara's tough crackdown on protests.
"We cannot act as if nothing had happened in the last days," said German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle on joining talks in Luxembourg with counterparts from the 27-nation bloc.
Berlin, backed by the governments of Austria and the Netherlands, blocked a plan to reopen Turkey-EU membership negotiations in Brussels on Wednesday after a three-year break.
But facing opposition from a large majority of European Union nations, a diplomatic source said Westerwelle suggested officially agreeing this week to reopen EU membership talks with Ankara, while postponing the actual negotiations until October -- which would be after the German elections.
Austrian counterpart Michael Spindelegger backed the idea of giving Turkey "a certain amount of time in which we can have a look at human rights, freedom of speech."
"We are a community of values," he said. "You can't stick the knife in countries like Egypt but not criticise an EU candidate country."
The row over the issue dominated talks between the bloc's foreign ministers in Luxembourg, with a decision possibly expected Tuesday when European Affairs ministers meet.
Sudden German opposition last week to re-opening membership talks with Turkey triggered an immediate surge in tensions between Ankara and Berlin, with sharp words exchanged and each calling in the other's ambassador for explanations.
At stake was an EU plan to agree to open a new policy "chapter" -- or set of rules and regulations -- in Ankara's eight-year negotiation process to win membership of the bloc.
Chancellor Angela Merkel said Monday that Germany still backs negotiations between the European Union and Turkey.
Merkel said in a speech to German and Turkish business leaders that Berlin remained committed to the membership process of Turkey's entry to the EU, as per the principle of "Pacta sunt servanda" ("agreements must be kept").
But Germany was also waiting for progress from the Turkish side, she told members of the Turkish-German Chamber of Trade and Industry.
Turkey began accession talks in 2005 but so far has agreed with the EU only one of 35 chapters needed to gain entry into the EU club.
The clashes in Turkey between police and protesters left four dead and tarnished the government's image. A delay in opening the new chapter would raise fresh doubts about whether the predominantly Muslim country of 76 million people will ever be admitted to the European club.
Westerwelle said he had had talks with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu at the weekend and that he hoped to use the Luxembourg talks "to find a common position with our European partners."
Reopening Turkey's long-stalled bid for membership by discussing Chapter 22 on regional policy requires unanimity between the 27 member states, and as is often the case the ministers went into the meeting poles apart.
Asked for comment, Sweden's Carl Bildt said he saw "no reason" to delay the accession talks until after the German polls.
"German elections are a good thing, but it cannot be an excuse for postponing everything else in Europe," he said.
Turkey's accession "is the slowest accession process in the history of the European Union, and there hasn't been a chapter opened for years."
"I think this is an extremely important time to engage with Turkey. We want to influence events in Turkey, we don't want to walk away from Turkey," he said.
Luxembourg's Jean Asselborn said it was vital for the EU to maintain relations with Turkey while clearly criticising the crackdown on the protests.
"We need to think less about the government than about the Turkish people," he said. "Millions of people in Turkey hope that the EU continues to put pressure" on the government and therefore talks should not be blocked.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said on arrival at the talks that "engagement is a better option."