Turkish president says understands Iran’s desire to develop nuclear capacity

April 24, 2012, Tuesday/ 18:35:00/ TODAYSZAMAN.COM

The Turkish president has said he can understand the Iranian desire to develop nuclear capacity, but said he cannot speak on whether Tehran is planning to make nuclear weapons.

President Abdullah Gül told Foreign Policy magazine that he is one of those that believe the nuclear standoff between Iran and the West has to be resolved diplomatically. He recalled statements Israel makes about war and said he thinks “this is wrong.”

“Whether or not we like a country, every country has their honor and their national feelings. I don't mean to in any way disregard the threat perception on the part of Israel either, but it's very important to look at issues from a broader perspective,” Gül said in the interview.

Gül also made similar remarks last November when he said empathy is required to understand the underlying reasons why Iran is so determined to continue with its suspected nuclear program despite sanctions that have hurt Iran's economy. “It is important to put oneself in their shoes and see how they perceive threats,” Gül told The Guardian, referring to Israel's nuclear capability, which it has neither acknowledged nor denied.

Turkey spearheaded sustained efforts last year to revive nuclear diplomacy between Western nations and Iran and this month hosted talks regarding Iran's nuclear program in İstanbul. Both sides said they achieved progress in talks in İstanbul and scheduled the new round of discussion for May 23 in Baghdad.

Gül also spoke about Turkish-Israeli relations and said ties between the two countries haven't deteriorated just because of the Turkish government. “That's a very wrong image,” he said, adding that what happened was that a humanitarian aid ship was attacked 72 miles off the coast in international waters and nine Turks were killed.

“That's not something we can forget. And until Israel does the things it needs to do, one cannot speak of a normalization of relations,” he underlined.

Israeli naval commandos stormed the Mavi Marmara ship, carrying humanitarian aid in an attempt to breach the Israeli-imposed Gaza blockade, and killed nine Turkish civilians, one of them an American citizen. Turkey demands an official apology, compensation for the families of the victims and an end to the Gaza blockade. Israel expressed only regret and said its soldiers acted in self-defense.

Gül said Israel does not really appreciate the value of their friendship and that those who are governing Israel at the moment do not seem to have a farsighted perspective. He noted that Israeli leadership seems to be more engaged in a shortsighted strategic outlook. “That seems to be the problem,” he added.

Turkey can be a model for Arabs

Speaking about the unrest and political transformation that has rocked the region in the past year, Gül said he does not think developments will take a negative direction in the countries of the Arab Spring, referring to instability in Egypt and Libya. The Turkish president said Turkey has had for many years the basic tenets and rules of democracy in place and that the Turkish people have always enjoyed freedom of expression and pluralism.

But Arab countries were closed for many years, he added. He stated that they were inward-looking and suffered under dictators who were quite harsh in the way they treated their people and that's why the opposition in these countries appears more radical.

Gül also reiterated that the prime minister in Tunisia, for example, has spent more than 10 years in jail -- many of the new leaders in Arab countries have been jailed for the past 10-15 years. However, Gül said he doesn't see any type of vengeful approach in any of these people. “They don't look to the past; they look to the future,” the president noted.

He also lauded America's open support for these democratic transitions, saying it was much appreciated by the people, particularly the youth, and that such moral support has improved America's image, which has suffered greatly. He added that for many years authoritarian regimes in the Middle East were supported by the West and that feelings of resentment won't go away overnight.

Evaluating the crisis in Syria, which has seen the death of nearly 10,000 people since last March, Gül said Turkey has done a lot to encourage peaceful change in Syria and that under Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's father the Internet or sites such as Facebook or Twitter were not allowed. He said he has spoken to Assad about this, telling him that times have changed and that “you can't continue to do things like this.”

Gül asserted that after all the bloodshed “we have reached the point of no return.” He urged Russia and Iran to change their position regarding Syria. He advised them to be a part of the international community and said they must act jointly to resolve this crisis. 

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