Iran Nuclear NewsTurkey asks Iran to return to negotiating table

Turkey asks Iran to return to negotiating table

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Wall Street Journal: Turkey on Tuesday called for Iran to negotiate with world powers as soon as possible over a nuclear-fuel swap deal, a show of frustration from one of Tehran’s few allies during recent international sparring over how to address Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

The Wall Street Journal

By MARC CHAMPION

ISTANBUL—Turkey on Tuesday called for Iran to negotiate with world powers as soon as possible over a nuclear-fuel swap deal, a show of frustration from one of Tehran’s few allies during recent international sparring over how to address Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

The demand, which came a day after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said there would be no talks until late August, showed Ankara’s first signs of irritation with Iran since Turkey voted earlier this month against imposing fresh sanctions on Tehran over its nuclear-fuel program.

Ankara had argued that the sanctions proposed by the United Nations Security Council would scupper an agreement that Turkey and Brazil had secured with Iran, under which Tehran would swap part of its stockpile of low-enriched uranium for higher-grade fuel rods. The Security Council resolution passed, with only Turkey and Brazil in dissent. Lebanon abstained.

“If they do not sit down and talk, we will be in a worse situation this time next year,” Turkish foreign ministry spokesman Burak Ozugergin told a press conference in Ankara, according to Turkish state news agency Anadolu Ajansi. “President Ahmadinejad mentioned August. We wish [the talks] would take place sooner.”

The U.S., Russia and France have proposed U.N.-brokered, expert-level talks with Iran on the fuel swap deal, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Tuesday, the Itar-Tass news agency reported.

Mr. Ahmadinejad’s statement Monday took Ankara by surprise, according to a senior Turkish diplomat. He said Turkey and Brazil, which hold rotating seats on the 15-nation Security Council, agreed to vote as they did on the condition that Tehran would continue to engage in talks on its nuclear program.

“To keep Iran at the table, one of their conditions was [for Brazil and Turkey] to vote no, instead of abstaining,” the senior diplomat told a group of reporters in Istanbul. “I don’t think the Iranians want to antagonize us over this.”

On Tuesday, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said the freeze on talks didn’t apply to discussions of the fuel-swap deal, leaving it unclear whether Tehran was ready for negotiations to begin before August or not.

The fuel-swap deal was almost identical to one that the U.S. proposed last year. Under the Turkish-Brazilian deal, Tehran would deposit 1,200 kilograms (2,600 pounds) of low-enriched uranium in Turkey in exchange for fuel rods containing uranium enriched to a higher level of 20%, to be used in an Iranian medical reactor. Turkish officials say the U.S. administration endorsed the Turkish-Brazilian effort.

Since the proposal was first extended last year, however, Tehran has expanded its stock of low-enriched uranium, lessening the value of the deal, and has said it is now enriching uranium to 20% levels on its own. Many Security Council members fear these advances could help Iran perfect the technology to enrich at higher levels required to produce a nuclear bomb.

Iran says its nuclear ambitions are peaceful.

On Tuesday, Mr. Lavrov said the proposed U.N.-brokered talks could take place only “under the understanding that Iran itself halts the 20% enrichment,” according to Itar-Tass.

Turkey’s “no” vote, coupled with its tough response to Israel over the boarding of a Gaza-bound Turkish aid ship on May 31, has triggered concern in Washington that Turkey, a longstanding ally and North Atlantic Treaty Organization member, is shifting its strategic orientation away from the West.

The State Department’s top official for Europe, Philip Gordon, said last week that Turkey’s Western commitment now “needs to be demonstrated.”

“I’m really surprised he made that statement. We don’t have to prove anything,” said the senior Turkish diplomat, who described talk of Turkey changing its foreign-policy axis as “crazy.”

The diplomat echoed statements by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the U.S. and Canada over the weekend that an increasingly confident Turkey is asserting its commercial and political interests but remains committed to its Western alliances and to joining the European Union.

With regard to Israel, the diplomat said Turkey didn’t want to destroy the relationship and was trying to “give Israel a way out” of the impasse by offering conditions to fulfill, after which relations could normalize.

Israel has showed no sign of agreeing to apologize for the deaths of nine Turkish citizens on board the ship, lifting the blockade on Gaza or meeting other Turkish conditions. The diplomat said the question was how long Ankara would wait before taking further action against Israel.

He said the first stage of such action would be an announcement that Turkey’s ambassador to Israel, recalled immediately after the clash, won’t return. Turkey is also examining legal remedies against Israel, and which state-level commercial contracts Turkey can cancel legally and without harming its own interests. He said Israel has made two requests for military flights to cross Turkish airspace since May 31, both of which were denied. That’s unlikely to change unless the relationship improves, he said.

“We are not going to wait too long,” he said. “But don’t ask me how long too long is.”

 

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