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Turkish Foreign Minister Tries to Defuse Iran Nuclear Tensions

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Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu underlined his country's opposition to growing calls for tougher sanctions against Iran, during a visit to Tehran.  There is a growing division between Turkey and its Western allies over Iran.

Tehran is just the latest leg in Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu's ongoing diplomatic efforts to defuse rising tensions over Iran's nuclear energy program.  Much of the international community suspects that program of being used to build a nuclear bomb, a charge denied by Tehran.  

After meeting with his Iranian counterpart, Davutoglu stressed again his country's support of Iran.

He said Turkey is continuing to work to stop unwanted developments that could hurt Iran, Turkey, and the entire region.  He said Turkey will try its best to see what it can do for the "nuclear fuel swap" proposal.

The nuclear swap is a proposal to Tehran that includes reprocessing Iran's nuclear material, making it unusable for weapons.  While not outright rejecting it, the Iranian government has refused to accept the offer.  

Despite growing pressure for new tougher sanctions against Tehran, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is resolute in opposing them, saying they are unnecessary and they do not work.  A stance he reiterated while attending a nuclear summit last week in Washington.  

During the visit, Mr. Erdogan said he is not alone.

He says there may be other countries that may share our thoughts.  He said our whole efforts are to move this process democratically and solve this problem diplomatically.

Mr. Erdogan is referring to Brazil, which like Turkey is a non-permanent member of the U.N. Security Council.  Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu visited Brazil last week to discuss the country's stance towards Iran.

Observers say Brazil, with its substantial Iranian trade ties, especially in mining and energy, also has reservations over new sanctions.  Brazil's president, Lula da Silva, is expected to visit Tehran next month.

Building strong political ties

New sanctions on Iran could also hurt Turkey's economy.  Next to Russia, Iran is Turkey's largest supplier of gas.

The deepening economic dependancy is an indication that Ankara may be ready to stand up to its allies over Iranian sanctions, according to political scientist Nuray Mert of Istanbul University.

"I was inclined to think that at the end of the day Turkey will join the club when it comes to realization of these sanctions because its inevitable," he said. "But nowadays, I can see the government is planning to avoid these sanctions.  Because now we have Turkey signing a lot of economic agreements, against the policy of sanctions."

Turkey's ruling AK party, with its Islamic roots, has worked hard to build strong political ties with its Iranian neighbor.  Prime Minister Erdogan refers to the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as a friend.  He stood by President Ahmadinejad after his contentious election victory last year.  

Tough choice

But despite such friendly relations, political columnist Akif Emre says Turkey being a NATO member and bidding to join the European Union means in any show down Ankara will not abandon its Western allies.

"A difficult choice, yes, but Turkish government does not want to prefer this choice," he said. "But first of all would try to keep balance, but Turkish government will choose the Western bloc because Turkish ties with the Western block is very strong.  Yes, Iran we are neighbors, but political , military, and economic ties with the Western bloc are very strong.  So Turkish state and government see this reality."

Political scientist Cengiz Aktar of Istanbul's Bahcesehir University says the ambiguity in Turkey's position on new Iranian sanctions is untenable. "I mean this is not the first time, unfortunately Turkey, through especially its foreign policy, is in total contradiction with its allies," he said.  

"So it is being in permanent contradiction with the international community.  Actually the [foreign] minister thinks Turkey can make it alone, by having its own position.  But I think this is a pipe dream.  One cannot have double- or triple-track policy when it comes to international matters after all," he added.

Turkish foreign policy has led critics to accuse the Turkish government of realigning the country from its traditional Western orientation, to the East, a charge Turkish leaders strongly deny.

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