Can Turkey Really Help Solve the Iran Nuclear Problem?


Turkey’s unique position as a NATO member and a Middle Eastern, Muslim nation with close ties to Iran would seem to make the country an ideal candidate to help solve the simmering conflict surrounding the Islamic Republic’s controversial nuclear energy program.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan made this argument himself last week, when he suggested that his government mediate negotiations between the new Obama administration and Iran.
The Bush administration has been broadly supportive of Turkey playing such a role. Prime Minister Erdogan’s government helped facilitate talks this past summer among the United States, Europe, and Iran and has hosted negotiations between Israel and Syria at Washington’s request.
However, Washington’s support requires that Ankara be committed to working toward an actionable solution that can satisfy all parties.
At the Brookings Institution during the G-20 summit in Washington, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan cast significant doubt upon this premise. In response to a question about Iran’s nuclear program the Prime Minister argued that, “We are against the possession of nuclear weapons in our region…but those who ask Iran not to produce nuclear weapons should themselves give up their nuclear weapons first.”
Erdogan has been roundly criticized for these remarks, which have been interpreted as a pro-Iranian position. However, the notion that the United States must commit itself to eliminating its nuclear weapons arsenal is not a novel concept, and enjoys serious support in Washington, including among foreign policy luminaries George Shultz, William J. Perry, Henry A. Kissinger and Sam Nunn. Most recently, Ivo Daalder and Jan Lodal provide a clear and compelling case for “The Logic of Zero.”
Therefore, it is not Erdogan’s remark in and of itself that is troubling, but rather the Prime Minister’s failure to articulate this position within the context of a compromise that can suit all parties.
For Turkey to provide real problem-solving value to this issue, it needs to do more than call the United States hypocritical, while reaffirming that Iran should not build a nuclear weapon. This is a no-risk, no-reward position that does nothing other than allow the Prime Minister to hear himself speak.
Instead, Erdogan’s government must utilize the trust that it enjoys with both the United States and Iran and its understanding of both sides’ perspectives and national interests to develop a practical, achievable solution – and to articulate that solution loudly, clearly and consistently in Ankara, Washington, and Tehran.
I think that Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett’s realist proposal for a grand bargain would be a good place to begin.
–Ben Katcher


14 comments on “Can Turkey Really Help Solve the Iran Nuclear Problem?

  1. dqueue says:

    I seem to recall Sibel Edmonds having a thing or two to say about
    Turkey and black market nuclear proliferation, too. Gagged by DoJ,
    she even hints that pulling threads from several major stories tend
    to lead back to the same shadowy corners…


  2. Dave Newman says:

    Sorry, but your point escapes me, Ben. Erdogan simply spoke the truth. I realize that the T word is not exactly appreciated, nor wanted, in today’s world of double speak.
    A compromise that will suit all parties? Allow me to give this one a chuckle. Are you really that naive? That’s like calling for a compromise that suits all parties on the Palestinian problem.
    Sorry, no offense meant, but dream on…


  3. k Galt says:

    Ben great post Try to read everything that Flynt Leverett, Juan Cole, and Scott Ritter have to say about Iran
    Seemed I read that Valerie Plame spent sometime in Turkey following some possible deadly weapons deals.
    I also think the fact that Israel has been unwilling to sign the Non Proliferation treaty seems to be a problem for many countries in that part of the world.
    “Text of letter received on 5 June 2003 from the Ambassador of the Sultanate of OmanOn behalf of the Arab States that are members of the International Atomic Energy Agency (the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, the Republic of Tunisia, the Republic of Algeria, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Republic of Sudan, the State of Qatar, the Syrian Arab Republic, the Sultanate of Oman (observer), the State of Kuwait, the Republic of Lebanon, the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, the Kingdom of Morocco, the Arabic Republic of Egypt, the Republic of Yemen and Palestine (observer)), whose Ambassadors met in the Mission of the Arab League Office in Vienna on 28thof May 2003, I have the honour to forward to you their request to kindly include an item entitled “Israeli nuclear capabilities and threat” in the agenda of the forty-seventh session of the Agency’s General Conference.The explanatory memorandum relating to the request for inclusion of the above mentioned item is enclosed.It will be highly appreciated if all necessary steps are taken in this regard.Yours sincerely,(signed) Salim Mohammed Al-RiyamiDean of the Arab Diplomatic CorpsAmbassador of the Sultanate of Oman
    Page 3
    GC(47)/6July 2003, Page 2EXPLANATORY MEMORANDUM ON ISRAELI NUCLEAR CAPABILITIES AND THREAT SUBMITTED BY THE MEMBER STATES IN THELEAGUE OF ARAB STATES1.An item on Israeli nuclear capabilities and threat has been on the agenda of the GeneralConference of the International Atomic Energy Agency for a number of years, and the Conference has repeatedly adopted resolutions calling upon Israel to place its nuclear installations under Agencysafeguards.In 1992 the Conference endorsed the President’s statement that “… in view of the peace process already under way in the Middle East, the aim of which was to conclude a comprehensive and just peace in the region, and which included in particular discussions on the establishment of anuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East, it would be desirable not to consider the present agenda item at the thirty-sixth regular session.” 2.The policies of the present Israeli Government have obstructed the peace process in the Middle East and all initiatives to free the region of the Middle East of weapons of mass destruction, and in particular of nuclear weapons, have failed.3.In May 1995, the Review and Extension Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on theNon-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons adopted a resolution on the Middle East expressing the concern of the States Party to the Treaty at the dangerous situation in the Middle East resulting from the presence in the region of nuclear activities not subject to IAEA safeguards, which put regional and international peace and security at risk.4.In May 2000, the sixth Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, which followed developments in the implementation of the resolution on the Middle East issued at the previous Review Conference, issued a Final Document which, inter alia, requested Israel to accede to the NPT as soon as possible and welcomed the accession to it of a number of Arab countries during the period 1995-2000, while Israel remained the only country in the region that had not acceded to the Treaty. The Conference reaffirmed the importance of Israel’s accession to the NPT and the placement of all its nuclear facilities under comprehensive IAEA safeguards, in realizing the goal of universal adherence to the Treaty in the Middle East.5.In 1997, the Member States of the Agency reinforced its control of nuclear activities through the Board of Governors’ adoption of the Model Additional Protocol to enhance the effectiveness and improve the efficiency of the safeguards system, in respect of States which have concludedcomprehensive safeguards agreements, in order to provide assurance that no undeclared nuclearactivities or installations exist.6.Arab States have always shown their readiness to take practical steps towards creating in the Middle East a zone free of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction, and torefrain from taking any measures which could hamper the attainment of this goal.7.Whereas all Arab States have acceded to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of NuclearWeapons, Israel continues to defy the international community by refusing to become a party to the Treaty or to place its installations under the Agency’s comprehensive safeguards system, thus exposing the region to nuclear risks and threatening peace. Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons is likely to lead to a destructive nuclear arms race in the region, especially if Israel’s nuclear installations remain outside any international control.
    Seems like a few counries in that part of the world have some serious concerns about Israel’s camabilities that have been IGNORED FOR A VERY LONG TIME.


  4. rich says:

    I think it’s pretty odd, or more accurately graceless, to demand that Turkey negotiate a solution and then presume to dictate how Erdogan goes about doing that. Worse than counterproductive, don’t you think?
    Given American intransigence, Erdogan’s “failure” to articulate …[a] compromise that can suit all parties” is no surprise.
    In that context, there’s no way Erdogan’s position “does nothing other than allow the Prime Minister to hear himself speak.”
    There’s no way the U.S. has any right to dictate–and that is the word–Iran’s nuclear capability or the disposition of its oil & gas resources.
    And those are the stated goals of American leaders who’ve failed to this point, utterly, in improving American security.
    As long as American ‘diplomats’ cling to that untenable stance, Erdogan can only call out American hypcrisy, in lieu of an impossible “practical, achievable solution” that plainly misrepresents the American national interest.
    We’ll never move transition to an economy based on renewable energy if the primary objective of our foreign policy is to suck (illegally and by force) the oil resources of sovereign nations into the global market as fast as possible.
    And our economy will continue tanking, sunk by increasingly exorbitant military spending sent down the rat hole after diminishing returns and accelerating costs. Even Vietnam is investing $10 billion in subway construction for Hanoi and Saigon–starting a year ago. Who’s the Third World country? We need options, not another fix to satisfy our oil addiction.
    Overthrowing Mossedegh didn’t work. CIA training of SAVAK 17 to torture the Shah’s own citizens backfired. What makes anyone think extorting Iran or dictating decisions to a sovereign nation will work? It can’t–it overthrows the fundamental lessons of the American revolution. Our leaders are blind to the enormous gains to be reaped by facilitating national aspirations and meeting the political needs of sovereign nations—and only too willing to have others suffer the unbearable costs of radically departing from core American laws and values.


  5. Mr.Murder says:

    It should be tripartite.
    EU/Turkey agree with Iran to do civilian nuclear development.
    Turkey leads the way because they would have the oversight and transparency concerns to make this a regional solution.
    This accelerates Turkey’s EU introduction.
    The NATO member gets to work in regionally to hedge Putin further.
    The EU uses the Turkish finance conduit as a way of cementing security in accordance with business.
    Iran and Turkey both benefit.


  6. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “In any case, it’s the elephant in the middle of the room, and the Washington foreign policy mob would not deign to discuss an issue as ignoble and dirty as getting control of Iranian energy”
    You do realize, of course, that eventually the petroleum dependent “developed countries” will by necessity start killing millions, probably billions, to gain access to dwindling resources? Its inevitable. Its the destination of the bus we’re on. Iraq is just the beginning.


  7. JohnH says:

    Problem with the Leverett/Mann “grand bargain” is that it’s not a grand bargain at all: it leaves out the PRIZE–disposition of Iranian energy reserves. It’s delusional to think that an Iranian deal can be done without addressing each side’s desire to control Iranian energy. Leverett/Mann address the issue by saying that the US would “help” Iran exploit its energy resources after the grand bargain is done. Is this “help” as in an “offer Iran can’t refuse,” or is it genuine help as needed and when called upon? In any case, it’s the elephant in the middle of the room, and the Washington foreign policy mob would not deign to discuss an issue as ignoble and dirty as getting control of Iranian energy.


  8. Pacos_gal says:

    Is there any way to “float” the Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett’s proposal for a “grand bargain” to see how receptive it would be on the U.S. and Iranian sides? Having read the link you provided, it seems to be an excellent starting point to use as a guideline to future negotiations between the two parties.
    I would be very happy to have something on this sort of scale carried out by the Obama administration.
    One question I’d have is whether the people that he is putting into position would be on board to do something like this? In other words, would they bring it to him as a possible scenario?
    I think that if Obama backs it, then it has a possibility of happening.


  9. ... says:

    aside from the excellent comments from others here i would like to add how steve seems to articulate a general american view that is not shared outside of the usa, which can be helpful in understanding how warped views just are inside the usa.. >>Can Turkey Really Help Solve the Iran Nuclear Problem?<<
    can the usa under obama help resolve tensions in the middle east where they have proven completely ineffectual to date? i think this would be a better question to ask.. keeping the focus/pressure on iran while ignoring the fact israel is loaded with nuclear weapons seems to be the path of the mainsteam media and it’s gofers… steve seems good at articulating this same ‘american feel good’ view, which is in direct odds with many of those outside of the general american mindset.. fortunately antagonist poa is here to keep the overall view a bit more balanced…


  10. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Hmm. The Iranian “problem”, eh? Of course, uh, Israel and the United States aren’t the “problem”?
    Perhaps Ben will tell us what treaties Iran is breaking, why we have the right to dictate the extent of Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and considering the incendiary rhetoric of both the US and Israel, why it doesn’t make sense for Iran to seek its own nuclear arsenal for the purpose of deterrence and self-preservation?
    Then again, I doubt Ben will address ANY of these questions.
    If I was Iranian, I would expect and demand that my leaders pursue nuclear weapons technology, particularly in light of Israel’s use of cluster bombs in Lebanon targeting civilians, and these crazy fuckin’ american politicians singing ditties like “Bomb Bomb Iran” and making thinly veiled threats like “all options on the table”.


  11. JohnH says:

    Wow! Are the apologists for the United States sensitive to criticism or what? Whew!?!
    After all the bullying behavior that the US exhibited towards Turkey during the run-up to the Iraq Occupation and the susequent saber rattling towards Iran, you would think that the US could cut Turkey a little slack for a few undiplomatic remarks. I guess the USA is ENTITLED to saber rattling while the rest of the world is OBLIGATED to be polite and respectful at all times. “Yes sir, Uncle Sam, may I genuflect before you again? Or would you prefer that I kiss your a**?”
    Let’s not forget that Turkey is the ONLY Middle East democracy that grants universal suffrage and does not discriminate against almost half the population because of its ethnicity. Democratically elected leaders’ words may not always be welcome but at least they should be respected.


  12. J says:

    My sense is that Erdogan was referring not to the United States when he called upon states to give up their nuclear weapons, but rather Israel. That makes more sense in the context of a regional solution to the tensions raised by Iran’s nuclear program.


  13. Matt says:

    Phew. Is this, like, a serious post? I thought it would have something to do with making a Thanksgiving joke. I think I’ll read it later.


  14. Helena Cobban says:

    You are quite right to note the obligation the US– and all the recognized NW states– assumed, under Article 6 of the NPT, to engage in good faith in negotiations towards a complete and general disarmament… as also, the significance of the Nunn, Kissinger, et all “mountaintop” approach articulated more recently.
    However, in the context, it is pretty certain that Erdogan was referring also to Israel’s very capable and sizeable NW capability, which is located right there in the Middle East (unlike the US arsenal, portions of which sail in and around the region from time to time.) If policymakers anywhere want to have a realistic chance of preventing Iran or any other majority-Muslim country in the region from ever even wanting to have nuclear weapons (or NW capability), then the goal should explicitly be for a Middle East free of ALL NWs and other WMDs. No exceptions. (And no avoiding talking about Israel’s NWs, either.)


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