Experts: Sanctions vote won’t strain Turkish-US relations

May 30, 2010, Sunday/ 11:22:00
The Turkish government appears to be staking its position of trust with the West as an honest broker on the risk of exercising stewardship for Iran in its nuclear imbroglio.
There have already been many statements made with respect to worsening Turkish-US relations as Turkey has repeatedly stated that it will not join the fourth round of US-led sanctions on Iran. Experts, however, believe that although Turkey’s position in the sanctions vote runs the risk of straining Turkish-US relations, they claim if Iran keeps its promise, Turkey’s “no” vote will be legitimate.

Turkey and Brazil brokered a historic deal in Tehran on May 17 that has been extensively covered by the international media. Two days after its announcement, the US delivered a draft of its proposed sanctions to UN Security Council members. Although the US claimed that the move has no link with the Tehran deal and that the sanctions are complementary and not alternative to the diplomatic track, observers believe it was a response to the May 17 nuclear fuel swap deal.

Iran agreed on Monday to ship most of its enriched uranium to Turkey in a deal that could ease the international standoff over the country’s disputed nuclear program and deflate a US-led push for tougher sanctions. The US, along with several other Western countries, said the deal does not really change many things as Iran will continue to enrich its uranium.

Turkey had exchanged statements several times with the US over the importance of the deal. A piece that appeared in The Washington Post last Monday reported that, according to US and Turkish officials, on May 19 Obama spent more than an hour on the telephone explaining to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan why the deal his country cut with Iran was incongruous with a US push to isolate the Islamic republic over its nuclear program. The Turkish media stressed the duration of the phone conversation, pointing out the growing tension between the US and Turkey. Davutoğlu later denied reports that the Obama-Erdoğan conversation took place in a tense atmosphere.

The Turkish NTV channel obtained information from Turkish diplomatic sources on Friday that Obama has requested a meeting with Erdoğan in Washington, D.C., regarding the deal.

Speaking to Sunday’s Zaman, Global Political Trends Center (GPoT) Director Mensur Akgün said Turkey’s “no” in the vote on sanctions at the UN Security Council will affect Turkey’s relations with the US. Akgün said the issue has become a matter of domestic politics in the US and has turned out to be an issue of prestige. He added that Turkey need not deviate from what it considers to be true. Considering Turkey’s position in the UN Security Council vote, Akgün said it would be better for Turkey to abstain and remain neutral over the sanctions.

Assessing current discussions in the Western media that Iran is still continuing its enrichment plans and it could have reached more than 2,300 kilograms of uranium considering its daily capability to produce it, Akgün said Turkey does not think differently from the West regarding Iran’s capacity to produce uranium. “What Turkey claims is that the question is whether or not it is possible to persuade Iran to relinquish its program,” Akgün noted. He said that Turkey correctly claims that sanctions won’t work and that to the contrary it will promote the isolation of Iran, adding that Iran may leave the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). “The sanctions may legitimize Iran’s more hawkish position,” he said.

Professor Fuat Keyman of Koç University said in an interview with Sunday’s Zaman that if Turkey votes against the resolution, it might affect Turkish-US relations to some extent. “We need to wait and see,” he said. Noting that Turkey, Brazil and Iran have played the diplomatic game well, Keyman said the world needs to focus on the diplomatic success of these three countries.

Keyman said Turkey made a mistake in congratulating the incumbent Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for his electoral win immediately following the disputed June election, which international observers said were rigged and neither free nor fair; however, he continued, there is no link between Iran’s domestic politics and the nuclear program. Pointing out New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman’s accusation of Turkey assisting a “thug” in Iran, Keyman said there is no direct link between the fraudulent election and the nuclear program and that his allegations are not just. He added that sanctions may even make Iran less democratic.

Regarding the opinions in news outlets that have appeared in mainstream Western media over the past weeks, Akgün claimed that both Western writers and Turkey are sincere in their efforts. Turkey’s problem, Akgün noted, is that the leadership was unable to give a better explanation of its cause to the world.

Keyman said that although the US has disclosed the draft of the sanctions on Iran, it had also reiterated that the crisis might not be resolved through sanctions.

If Iran conveys clear messages to the West and if Iran takes concrete steps in nuclear non-proliferation, then in this case, Keyman noted, Turkey’s “no” vote may be legitimate. Through this, Turkey may gain moral clout. “Iran needs to keep its promise and take further steps,” Keyman said.

Noting that the conundrum is based on the West’s mistrust of Iran, Keyman said the Tehran deal is the only tangible agreement available for confidence building.

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