Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu met with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton on Friday for a working breakfast in İstanbul. Ashton is also the representative of the P5+1, which is composed of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council -- the US, Russia, China, Britain and France -- plus Germany, in dealing with Iran. The breakfast took place behind closed doors at İstanbul's Hilton Hotel and lasted around one-and-a-half hours.
The meeting between Davutoğlu and Ashton came a day before İstanbul hosts negotiations between the P5+1 countries and Iran. The first round of nuclear talks between the two sides in January 2011 also took place in İstanbul, but no breakthrough was achieved. This is the first time in 14 months that nuclear talks will be held. Iran's haggling over the venue in the week before the scheduled talks sparked speculation that the country had wanted to further stall the negotiations. However, the sides finally agreed on İstanbul, which was the location most expected based on comments that had come from both sides.
Iran’s previous proposals of Damascus, Baghdad or China to host the talks had befuddled the international community because all parties, including Iran, had previously announced the talks would be in İstanbul. In fact, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi had repeated said İstanbul is the best location for the talks. The issue over the venue almost turned into a diplomatic crisis between Iran and Turkey. Slamming Iran’s unexpected change of heart, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan claimed last Thursday that Iran is continuously losing prestige by not being honest.
Political observers had claimed that Iran’s change of heart on the İstanbul venue was very much related to recent tensions between Turkey and Iran. Iranian political circles had stated their distrust of Turkey because of its position on the Syrian crisis as “the mouthpiece of US imperialism” and claimed Turkey should not be among the possible locations to host the talks.
“Turkish officials are not honest enough because they do not speak with their own words. Ankara has become a sort of subcontractor and instrument of US imperialism in the region. They cannot decide for themselves; they are acting on the orders of global powers,” said İsmail Kevseri, deputy head of the Iranian Parliament National Security and Foreign Policy Commission. Turkey is a leading critic of the Syrian regime due to its aggressive response to dissent, while Iran has unconditionally backed Assad, one of its important allies in the region, along with Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s regime in Iraq.
Western powers and Israel suspect that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapons program, a charge that Tehran denies.
Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili has said he will bring “new initiatives” to the İstanbul meeting and that Iran is ready to hold “successful and progressive talks on cooperation.”
Top US officials, including President Barack Obama, had earlier warned Iran that the window for diplomacy is closing for the country if it will not compromise and open its nuclear facilities to international inspection. Iran has already readied another venue, Baghdad, in case the negotiations in İstanbul are not successful.
Davutoğlu also had one-hour talks with Jalili and his delegation late on Friday.