Turkey opposed to new sanctions on Iran, Erdogan tells Obama

December 9, 2009

WASHINGTON – (CSM.COM/AP) -- Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told President Obama on Monday that the issue of Iran’s nuclear program can be solved only through diplomacy.

Mr. Erdogan sat down for lunch with Mr. Obama at the White House at a time when the United States is questioning some of the foreign-policy directions of the NATO alliance’s only Muslim-majority member.
At a news conference after his White House meeting, Erdogan stressed the role of diplomacy in persuading Iran and made clear that Turkey does not see the need yet for new sanctions.
Obama has signaled that he may soon seek new sanctions from the United Nations against Iran for its defiance against revealing the extent of its nuclear program.
“I indicated to the prime minister how important it is to resolve the issue of Iran's nuclear capacity in a way that allows Iran to pursue peaceful nuclear energy but provides assurances that it will abide by international rules and norms,” Obama said in a joint appearance with Erdogan. “I believe that Turkey can be an important player in trying to move Iran in that direction,” the Associated Press reported
Erdogan made clear his unwillingness to back new coercion.
“We believe that the role of Iran can only be changed through diplomacy,” he said in a news conference after his White House meeting.
He also criticized current sanctions against Iran as being ineffective and allowing loopholes for Western goods to reach the Iranian market.
Erdogan said he told Obama he was willing to mediate negotiations between Iran and the West. It is not clear that the Obama administration is eager for Turkey to play that role.
The Obama administration would also like to see Turkey reverse its refusal -- as a fellow Muslim country -- to participate in combat operations in Afghanistan.
In remarks to the media following his White House meetings, Erdogan repeated his view that concerns about Iran’s nuclear program won’t be addressed in a satisfactory manner either by force or through economic sanctions. “We need to establish an effort through diplomacy,” he said.
Erdogan visited Tehran in October and discussed regional solutions to regional problems with the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The Leader told Erdogan that the West is “incapable” of solving crises in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Palestinian territories, the Christian Science Monitor wrote.
Turkey abstained in a vote by the board of the UN’s nuclear watchdog that censured Iran’s recent nuclear developments.
Erdogan called “ridiculous” growing Western fears that Turkey’s emphasis on relations with Iran suggests it is turning away from Europe and toward the East. Explaining his East-West diplomacy as “trying to establish this very equal position,” he added, “We are only improving our relations with our neighbors in the region and with our friends on the global scale.”
As for Afghanistan, Obama on Monday was all praise publicly, calling Turkey’s contribution in Afghanistan “outstanding.”
The Turkish leader insisted that the 1,750 soldiers his country has deployed in training and other noncombat functions underscore a strong commitment to the alliance effort in Afghanistan. Under repeated questioning at the press conference, he suggested that while Turkey’s involvement in the training of Afghan security forces will rise, it is unlikely that the total number of Turkish troops on the ground will increase significantly. There may be a “variation” of 50 to 100 troops, he said.
Also “troubling” the U.S. is a recent souring of relations between Turkey and Israel, as Turkey jumped to the defense of Hamas following last winter’s brutal incursion by Israeli forces into Hamas-controlled Gaza.
The Bush administration was unhappy with Turkey’s intermediary role between Israel and Syria, but the Obama administration has been more encouraging.
Erdogan acknowledged the recent “problems between our two countries,” suggesting that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s statements criticizing the Turkish leadership over its regional diplomacy are a roadblock in Turkey pursuing its intermediary role in the Middle East conflict.
Photo: Photo: Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey (L) speaks next to U.S. President Barack Obama in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington December 7, 2009. (Reuters photo)