Bloomberg: President Barack Obama will press Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, one of NATO’s two Muslim members, for more support in curbing Iran’s nuclear program and rebuilding Afghanistan. By Janine Zacharia
Dec. 7 (Bloomberg) — President Barack Obama will press Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, one of NATO’s two Muslim members, for more support in curbing Iran’s nuclear program and rebuilding Afghanistan.
In a White House meeting today, Obama will probe Turkey’s willingness, as a member of the United Nations Security Council, to back new sanctions against Iran, an administration official said. The U.S. also wants Turkey to increase its aid to Afghanistan, according to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Erdogan’s government has been expanding trade ties with Iran, which supplies about 20 percent of Turkey’s natural gas. He visited Tehran in October and said that Iran’s nuclear program, which the U.S. suspects is a cover for weapons development, is “peaceful.”
“American policy makers are going to want to use that new relationship with Iran to take tough messages to Tehran about the nuclear issue,” said Ian Lesser, a Turkish-affairs specialist at the German Marshall Fund of the U.S. in Washington.
The administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Turkey could serve as a mediator only if it made clear to Iranian officials that their nuclear program can only be for peaceful purposes.
The official also said that the U.S. will seek to “clarify” the Turkish position on Iran after Erdogan’s comments on the Iranian program, which included praise for what he called Iran’s positive approach to nuclear talks with the U.S. that collapsed after their Oct. 1 start.
Obama has said he will give Iran until the end of the year to prove its program is for peaceful purposes or will seek new, multinational sanctions to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.
If there was a UN Security Council vote on Iran sanctions, Turkey might abstain, Ilter Turkmen, a former Turkish foreign minister, said in a phone interview. “If China and Russia go along with the U.S. and vote for more sanctions then it could put us in an awkward position,” he said.
In their meeting, Erdogan and Obama will also discuss Turkey’s troop commitment to Afghanistan, its role in northern Iraq, the establishment of relations with Armenia and the future of Cyprus, according to White House spokesman Robert Gibbs.
Erdogan said yesterday before his departure that Turkey is “already doing what it can” in Afghanistan after more than doubling the number of soldiers there to 1,700. He said Turkey is ready to play a greater role in training Afghan troops if asked.
Obama earlier this month ordered another 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan and is pressing allies to increase contributions.
The administration official said Obama wouldn’t ask Turkey for a specific number of new troops in Afghanistan. Turkish troops serve in non-combat roles as part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization force. Albania became NATO’s second Muslim member in April.
“We are always hopeful of getting even more assistance from Turkey because it is so important,” Clinton said at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Dec. 4. “But we also are grateful for what we have received.”
As Clinton attended the NATO gathering, Dan Feldman, deputy to U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke, who manages the Afghanistan and Pakistan relationships, was in the Turkish capital of Ankara. He discussed possible joint cooperation between the U.S. and Turkey in civilian projects in Afghanistan.
Turkish Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul said on Dec. 2 — a day after Obama urged allies to contribute more forces — there was “no shift in policy” regarding keeping Turkish troops out of combat with the Taliban.
“We maintain our reservations about the involvement of Turkish troops in military operations and combat in Afghanistan,” he said.
Erdogan’s visit to Washington — eight months after he hosted Obama in Ankara — comes as Turkey seeks to play a more prominent role in its neighborhood, trying to broker a resumption of Israeli-Syrian peace talks and improving ties with Iran.
Public opinion in Turkey is turning more favorable toward the U.S., reflecting an “Obama bounce,” said Ahmet Evin, a Turkish foreign policy expert at the Washington-based Transatlantic Academy. The fading of the Iraq War, a major irritant in relations during George W. Bush’s presidency, is also improving the public mood in Turkey, he said.
Erdogan may ask Obama to put more pressure on the Kurdish administration in the northern region of Iraq to prevent the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, from attacking Turkish targets.
Turkey sent hundreds of troops across its border into northern Iraq in February of 2008 for more than a week, heightening concern in Washington over Iraqi stability.