ISTANBUL // Turkey has conceded that it has angered Washington, both for its position in the row over the Iranian nuclear programme and recent tensions with Israel. But Ankara has insisted there was no threat by President Barack Obama to withhold arms deliveries until Turkey restores its friendly ties with Israel. "There was definitively no ultimatum," a senior Turkish diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said yesterday. His statement echoed a similar denial by the Obama administration. The diplomat added that Feridun Sinirlioglu, an undersecretary of the foreign ministry in Ankara, would go to Washington next week for talks with US officials.
The Financial Times reported on Monday that Mr Obama had told Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, that Turkey's tough line towards Israel made it more difficult to get approval from the US Congress to sell arms to Ankara, a key ally. Turkey wants to buy unmanned spy aircraft for use in its fight against Kurdish rebels. Turkey accused Israel of "piracy" and recalled its ambassador after Israeli soldiers stormed a Turkish ship carrying aid for the Gaza Strip on May 31, killing nine activists on board. In June, Turkey caused further consternation in the West when it voted against a fresh round of sanctions against Iran in the UN Security Council.
Officials in Ankara insist that Turkey is not turning away from its traditional western orientation, as some critics inside and outside the country have suggested. They say that in the debate about the Iranian nuclear programme, for example, Turkey simply employs a different tactical approach when dealing with Tehran. Its overall goal is the same as that of the West: to keep the Iranians from building a nuclear bomb.
But Ankara has not been able to communicate that line to US politicians successfully, the Turkish diplomat conceded. "We had been hearing from many US officials at various levels that the Iran vote and relations with Israel were hampering the [Obama] administration's efforts to convince the US Congress to approve the sale of certain equipment to Turkey," he said. "We need to engage the US Congress much more than before and explain to them what really happened. That with regard to Iran our goals are the same but our approach is different."
As for relations with Israel, "our problem is not with the state or the people but with the government and its policies towards Gaza", the diplomat said. "All these have to be explained thoroughly to them," he said in reference to US lawmakers. According to the diplomat, there has been some improvement in recent weeks. He said the US had told Ankara a meeting of the foreign ministers of Turkey, Brazil and Iran in Istanbul on July 25 had been a "positive step". The three countries reached a deal in May to defuse the nuclear row, but the agreement was dismissed by the West.
The meeting in Istanbul had shown that Iran was still willing to talk to the group made up by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council - China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States, plus Germany - the diplomat said. It was important for the Iranians to back up their statements with concrete action, he added. "Nevertheless, the US wants us to continue these efforts."