(Photo Credit: usembassylondon’s photostream)
This post also appears at The Race for Iran.
As TWN Publisher Steve Clemons noted on Countdown with Keith Olbermann last night and in this post about a New America Foundation/American Strategy Program event tomorrow with Noble Laureate in Economics Thomas Schelling, the question of how to cope with Iran’s nuclear program requires a serious, non-dogmatic analysis of what the consequences of a nuclear-armed Iran would likely be and how other states would likely respond.
One of the keys to any successful strategy toward Iran will be to garner the support of regional stakeholders. Turkey, which shares a border with Iran, enjoys friendly diplomatic relations with the Islamic Republic, and has a seat at the United Nations Security Council, is undoubtedly one of the key players.
I had the privilege of attending a press conference yesterday at the Turkish Embassy in Washington with Turkey Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who is considered the chief architect of Ankara’s increasingly active, forward-leaning foreign policy posture. The Foreign Minister was in town along with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan for President Obama’s 47-nation nuclear summit this week.
Not surprisingly, the session focused on the challenges posed both by Iran’s nuclear program and the American-led drive for sanctions.
Davutoglu’s position was very clear. Turkey respects the right of every nation to develop civilian nuclear energy (Turkey is cooperating with Russia on its own fledgling program). At the same time, Turkey opposes nuclear weapons anywhere and everywhere – especially in the volatile region of the Middle East. Therefore Turkey supports Iran’s right to a civilian nuclear program, but opposes any effort Iran may make to weaponize its program.
While steadfastly opposing an Iranian nuclear weapon, the foreign minister offered several reasons for Turkey’s reservations concerning the American-led drive for sanctions. He noted that Turkey opposes sanctions in principle because they lead to destabilization and increase the likelihood of conflict.
On Iran specifically, Turkey opposes sanctions for four main reasons.
First, Iran is Turkey’s second largest supplier of natural gas. Turkey is not blessed with sufficient energy resources to meet its needs and does not have the luxury to cut trade ties with one of its most significant energy partners.
Second, Davutoglu pointed out that the people of Turkey and Iran share a broad cultural and historical relationship. One-third of Iranians are Azeri Turks and Tehran is the second-largest Turkish-speaking city in the world. Turkey is hesitant to support sanctions which will inevitably harm ordinary Iranian people.
Third, Iranian cooperation is key to preventing crises in the region and resolving regional conflicts including Iraq, Afghanistan, and Israel-Palestine.
Fourth, Turkey suffered in a very visceral way from the U.S.-led sanctions on Iraq following the first Gulf War. Turkey’s impoverished Southeastern region suffered from the decline in cross-border trade with northern Iraq. This economic instability, in turn, contributed to increased violence between the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and the Turkish Army.
Instead of sanctions, Turkey supports more diplomacy. The foreign minister said that he continues to talk to the Iranians on a very regular basis and is encouraged by progress on the Iranian position with regard to the TRR “fuel-swap” proposal, though he refused to elaborate on that point.
Davutoglu also refused to comment on whether Turkey might support a sanctions resolution at the Security Council, noting that he could not comment until Turkey is presented with the details.
— Ben Katcher