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Turkey Stands Firm on Iran Nuclear Issue

  • Dorian Jones

Turkey has been a close U.S. ally for decades and is a European Union membership candidate, as well as a NATO member. But Turkey's Western ties are being examined in its dealings with Iran.

A senior Turkish diplomat says his country remains disappointed over what he says is the failure of its Western allies to give it time for its diplomatic efforts with Brazil to resolve the crisis over Iran's nuclear energy program.

Just days before the U.N. vote that approved new sanctions against Iran, its president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, signed a deal with his Brazilian counterpart and the Turkish prime minister under which Iran would export some its uranium to be reprocessed so it could not be used for weapons. The permanent U.N. Security Council members said the deal was not enough, accusing Tehran of another delaying tactic to avoid sanctions.

Observers say Ankara was so angry over the rejection of its Iran deal that only in the last few days did it confirm it would enforce the new U.N. sanctions.

But senior Turkish diplomat Selim Yenel says the U.N. sanctions are as far as Ankara's cooperation will go, it will not support U.S. and E.U. measures.

"Well I think Turkey has to be consistent, because we voted 'No' for the sanctions vote at the U.N., because we do not first of all believe sanctions will work, and [think] they will hamper diplomatic efforts," said Yenel. "And secondly, nobody discussed these unilateral sanctions by the U.S. and European Union with Turkey, so we do not feel obliged to abide by them."

The NATO member has been a strong U.S. ally since the end of World War II, and Turkey is also in the process of joining the European Union. But Ankara's reluctance to support either Washington or Brussels in a tough stance over sanctions against Iran is raising questions over whether the Turkish government is re-orientating itself away from its Western allies.

Concern has increased because Turkey's ruling AK Party has Islamic roots and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has described the Iranian president as a friend.

Foreign relations expert and political columnist Semih Idiz, says he believes concern is growing in Washington.

"Well it is turning into a problem," said Idiz. "Judging by the commentary coming out of Washington one must assume this is not coming out in a vacuum. There are those who are calling Turkey a thorn in America's side, and there are some doubts as to the commitments to the West and its alliance, given that it is a NATO member. So the mood is not exactly positive at the moment."

Prime Minister Erdogan has dismissed such concerns, accusing the media of creating mischief where there is none.

But recently, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Philip Gordon said the increasing questions over Turkey's commitment to the West are creating problems for Ankara and Washington. He said Turkey needs to demonstrate its commitment to the West.

His call was dismissed by senior Turkish diplomat Yenel.

"Well that is an unfortunate statement because Turkey has not changed its stance whatsoever," added Yenel. "Turkey has nothing to prove, if [you] just look at what Turkey has done in the last [few] years it has become basically more active, more confident, innovative and that is it. We have not wavered in our stance, it is always Westward looking and that will not change."

Despite such assurances, the old adage, "action speaks louder than words" could be the test that Turkey's allies in Brussels and Washington apply to the Turkish government.

Yenel acknowledges new U.S. sanctions against Iran could pose problems for Turkish companies trading with Iran if they also trade with the United States.

"We hope that it will not come to that," he said. " Definitely we will be looking very carefully at what it will entail for those who are in business with Iran. But we will feel we are only bound by U.N. sanctions."

Observers say Ankara had generated a large amount of diplomatic goodwill with Western nations in its efforts to reform its country and improve relations with its neighbors. But that good will appears to be in danger of running out.

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