Wed, Dec 09, 2009 - Page 6 News List

Turkish PM says Ankara able to mediate with Iran

AFP , WASHINGTON

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan criticized the West for being too quick to censure Iran’s nuclear program, and told US President Barack Obama during his visit to Washington that Ankara is prepared to mediate with Tehran.

Obama, who welcomed Erdogan on Monday to the White House, said Turkey could be “an important player in trying to move Iran” toward abiding by international norms and atomic rules.

But the two NATO allies appeared to differ over the seriousness of Iran’s push to develop a uranium enrichment capacity that Washington fears is aimed at producing fissile material for nuclear weapons.

Erdogan took issue with a vote last week by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN’s nuclear watchdog, to censure Tehran after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad rejected a Western offer to enrich uranium to fuel a research reactor outside Iran.

“I believe that was a very rushed process because certain steps could be taken in a more consultative fashion,” said Erdogan, speaking at a press conference through an interpreter.

After the vote Ahmadinejad threatened to build 10 more uranium enrichment facilities, in addition to two existing facilities, so that Iran can enrich uranium on its own.

Erdogan said that diplomacy was the only way to deal with Iran’s nuclear program, and that Turkey had no problem with the program as long as it was for peaceful purposes, as Tehran claims.

“Turkey can play the role of negotiator or a mediator and this is the only information that we shared with President Obama,” Erdogan said.

He said Turkey had contacts and a positive relationship with Iran that could be useful.

“We do not want a country in our region to possess a nuclear weapon, and we want countries that already possess nuclear weapons to be rid of them. This is our thesis that we abide by,” he said.

Erdogan previously raised concerns in Washington in October when he accused the West of treating Iran unfairly by demanding that it halt what its nuclear programs, while not demanding the same of nuclear armed countries in the region, an allusion to Israel.

At the White House, Obama said the international community was trying to resolve the nuclear showdown and ensure that Iran abides by international norms,

“I believe that Turkey can be an important player in trying to move Iran in that direction,” Obama said.

Obama also praised Turkey for its role in Afghanistan, where it has 1,700 troops.

Unlike other European members of the NATO-led force in Afghanistan, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), Turkey’s mission is limited to patrols and its troops do not take part in combat operations.

Erdogan gave no indication Ankara would be willing to provide combat troops to ISAF, but he did say that Turkey could train Afghan soldiers and police.

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