Erdoğan, who is in Tehran for talks with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and other Iranian officials, has once again defended the right of nations to pursue nuclear energy as long as it is for peaceful purposes and reiterated that Turkey is ready to host talks between Iran and world powers to bring about a negotiated settlement in the dispute over Tehran's nuclear program.
“No one has the right to impose anything on anyone with regards to nuclear energy, provided that it is for peaceful purposes,” Erdoğan said at a news conference after talks with Iranian First Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi. “Everyone with commonsense opposes nuclear weapons,” he added.
The US and its allies accuse Iran of pursuing nuclear weapons, a charge Tehran denies. Iran says its nuclear enrichment program is only for the purpose of generating energy.
Erdoğan arrived in Tehran from South Korea, where he attended a nuclear security summit and also held talks with US President Barack Obama.
Turkey has built close economic ties with Iran and has been at odds with Washington over the best way to get Tehran to halt its nuclear program, arguing for a diplomatic solution to the standoff instead of sanctions. However, Turkey has also decided to host NATO defense shield radar that would warn of any Iranian ballistic missiles in the region, sparking protests from some Iranian officials.
The last round of nuclear negotiations between Iran and the group of P5+1, consisting of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany, was held in İstanbul in January 2011, but ended without agreement.
Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said earlier in the day on Wednesday that he favored İstanbul as the venue for the April talks but that a final decision will be made by top Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton within the coming days.
"İstanbul has expressed its readiness to host these talks and it remains one of the probable options for the negotiations," Salehi told the official IRNA news agency.
Erdoğan reiterated Turkey's readiness to provide the venue for a new round of talks and indicated that the opposition from Western countries to have the meeting in İstanbul may have softened. Referring to Salehi's remarks, Erdoğan said his talks in South Korea also revealed promising developments regarding the P5+1's stance towards having the meeting in İstanbul.
“Based on the information we obtained in South Korea, there are also positive developments concerning the other side. I think we need to wait for their statement as well,” Erdoğan said. “We hope to make positive contributions to this process because we have been following this case most closely as a third country,” he also said.
Rahimi said Iran firmly supported İstanbul hosting the upcoming talks and praised Turkey for its insistent support for countries' rights to acquire nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. The Iranian official said Wednesday's talks with Erdoğan further advanced the “brotherhood” between Iran and Turkey.
“It is known to everyone that Iran wants to use nuclear energy only for peaceful purposes. Our brothers in Turkey know about this better than anyone because we are neighboring countries,” he said. Rahimi also said his country has invested extensively in the peaceful use of nuclear energy. “We are ready to offer our services to Turkey, other Muslim nations and all of humanity. … The West does not want us to make strides in the scientific field. It wants to keep the monopoly [on access to nuclear energy],” Rahimi was quoted as saying by Turkey's Anatolia news agency.
Erdoğan and Rahimi also announced readiness to increase the bilateral trade volume from the current $16 billion to $35 billion by the end of 2015.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, Economy Minister Zafer Çağlayan, Energy Minister Taner Yıldız, National Intelligence Organization (MİT) head Hakan Fidan and Deputy Chief of the General Staff Gen. Hulusi Akar accompanied Erdoğan in the visit to Tehran.
Erdoğan was to meet Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad later on Wednesday but their talks were postponed due to the president's health. They are scheduled to meet on Thursday.
Messages on Syria
While Turkey has repeatedly voiced its support for Iran's right to establish a peaceful nuclear program, it is at odds with Tehran over Syria where the government crackdown continues against opposition forces and anti-government demonstrators.
Turkey's EU Minister Egemen Bağış has underlined the importance of Erdoğan's messages in Tehran over the ongoing violence in Syria. “In order to halt bloodshed in Syria, the prime minister's messages to Tehran have a significant importance. We don't want innocent people to lose their lives either in Syria or in any other country,” Bağış said.
Erdoğan has urged Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down to end more than a year of fighting between Assad's forces and opponents of his rule. Turkey has also allowed opposition groups to meet regularly in İstanbul.
In contrast, Shiite Muslim Iran has steadfastly continued to support what is its closest Arab ally whose leader is from the minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.