From raising an alarm against a possible Israeli military strike on Iranian nuclear installations to exhorting western leaders to believe that Tehran is not engaged in building atomic weapons, Turkey is going out of its way to impart a glimmer of hope to the upcoming talks in Istanbul between the six global powers and Iran.
Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been emphatic in stating that an Israeli attack on Iran would prove “disastrous” for West Asia. “Israel should not attack Iran,” Mr. Erdogan told reporters after returning from a two-day official visit to Tehran.
“The entire region would be devastated,” he observed, Turkish newspaper Today’s Zaman quoted him as saying. Mr. Erdogan’s words appeared to acquire fresh resonance after Israel issued a tight three-month deadline within which it wanted talks between Iran and the global powers to yield tangible results.
The Turkish premier signaled that he had shared his concerns regarding the consequences of an Israeli attack with U.S. President Barack Obama, whom he had met recently in Seoul during a nuclear security summit. He warned that a regional war triggered by an Israeli attack “would not end up like the war between U.S. and Iraq”.
Analysts explain Turkey’s energetic involvement to defuse the crisis surrounding Iran to two factors. First, any success in dialogue would immeasurably raise Turkey’s international diplomatic profile. Secondly, a rapprochement between Iran and the West, will yield Turkey a huge economic bonanza, as it would enable Ankara to source large quantities of Iranian oil and gas, most of which can be safely piped into Europe across the Turkish mainland.
Trusting Iran’s benign intentions, Mr. Erdogan, who belongs to the Justice and Development Party (AKP), which has Islamic roots, has pinned faith on the words of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader that Islam forbids development of weapons of mass destruction.
“After such a statement from such a person, I cannot claim that Iran is building a nuclear weapon,” the Turkish leader said. “Does it not have the right to implement a nuclear program for peaceful means?”
Defending Iran’s rights to harness nuclear energy, Mr. Erdogan told reporters travelling with him that “no one has the right to impose anything on anyone with regards to nuclear energy, provided that it is for peaceful purposes”. Mr. Erdogan also slammed the “international community” for its silence over Israel’s alleged nuclear weapon stockpile, while maintaining pressure on Iran — an assertion that would not only go down well in Tehran, but also in large parts of West Asia, where hostility to Israel runs deep.
“Israel has between 250 to 300 nuclear warheads. Nobody is discussing that,” Mr. Erdogan said. He added, “Iran says they would not produce nuclear weapons. They are saying that they would produce a specific amount of enriched uranium rods and stop after that.”
After concluding talks with Mr. Obama in Korea, Mr. Erdogan has briefed the U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, who was in Istanbul on Sunday to attend a meeting of the Friends of Syria group, regarding his talks with the Iranian leadership in Tehran.
Observers point out that Mr. Erdogan’s inputs are expected to shape the agenda of the April 13 talks between the six global powers and Iran.
On Sunday, Ms. Clinton latched on to Mr. Erdogan’s remarks regarding Ayatollah Khamenei’s pledge against development of nuclear weapons. “They (the Turks) were told that the supreme leader (Ayatollah Ali Khamenei) viewed weapons of mass destruction as religiously prohibited, as against Islam,” Ms. Clinton said at a news conference in Istanbul. “We are meeting with the Iranians to discuss how to translate what is a stated belief into a plan of action,” she said. “It is not an abstract belief, but a government policy. That government policy can be demonstrated in a number of ways. ... The international community now wants to see actions associated with that statement of belief.”
She suggested that Iran could open its nuclear facilities to international inspectors and ship out some of its enriched uranium stocks in exchange for fuel for its research reactor.