Turkey left out on a limb after Iran accord

Politicians and media in Turkey lash out at criticism that it and Brazil were duped into blunting Washington's sanctions effort.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's prime minister, with Barack Obama, the US president, at a press conference in Washington last year. Tension is brewing between Turkey and the US over the latter's insistence on going ahead with fresh sanctions against Iran.
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ISTANBUL // It was supposed to be a triumph for Turkey's new foreign policy. But only days after the signing of a deal designed by Turkey and Brazil to cool down the row over Iran's nuclear programme, tensions are rising between the government in Ankara and its key ally, the United States, over Washington's insistence on going ahead with fresh sanctions against Tehran.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's prime minister, told the US president, Barack Obama, in a telephone conversation that the agreement signed in Tehran this week had been a "victory for diplomacy", Mr Erdogan's office said in a statement yesterday. In a reference to criticism coming from Washington, Mr Erdogan added that Turkey and the United States "should trust and support each other". Mr Erdogan also spoke with Vladimir Putin, Russia's prime minister.

The cool US reception to the agreement by Washington is seen as a humiliation for Turkey, "a cold shower from the United States", the internet news portal haberaktuel.com commented. Just before Washington said it was determined to seek further sanctions, Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey's foreign minister, had called on the West to drop the issue for now. "There should be an end to doubts now that the signatures [of the deal] are there," he told reporters in Istanbul after his return from his negotiations in Tehran. "The signatures of three member states of the United Nations are no joke."

In recent months, Mr Erdogan's government invested a good deal of time and prestige in its efforts to defuse the Iran crisis. Even though some Turkish politicians agree with the western suspicion that Iran may have the aim of building a nuclear weapon, Ankara says fresh sanctions against Tehran would be useless and hurt Turkish economic and political interests as a neighbour of Iran. Together with Brazil, another non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council and a rising player on the world stage, Turkey brokered a deal in which Iran would store 1,200 kilograms of low-enriched uranium in Turkey and get higher-enriched material for use in a medical reactor in exchange. Iran is to officially inform the International Atomic Energy Agency of the deal in the coming days. The Iranian uranium would arrive in Turkey within a month, the text of the agreement said. But the deal does not force Iran to stop its own enrichment process, which the West fears could be used for military purposes.

Turkish government officials praised the agreement. There was no need for further sanctions against Iran now, Mr Davutoglu said after completing 18 hours of negotiations in Tehran. The minister is the architect of a new foreign policy that regards Turkey as a regional power centre with the ability and the willingness to get involved in regional problems to find regional solutions. If they had hoped for praise from Washington, Mr Davutoglu and his colleagues were mistaken. Just a day after the signing ceremony in Tehran, Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, said her government had reached a consensus with major powers of the UN Security Council, including Russia and China, on imposing harsher sanctions against Tehran. Mrs Clinton also distanced herself from the Turkish-Brazilian initiative.

Faced with criticism, from Mrs Clinton, Israel and elsewhere, that Turkey and Brazil had been used by Iran to blunt Washington's efforts to impose fresh sanctions, politicians and media in Turkey reacted with disappointment and anger. Murat Mercan, the head of the foreign relations committee in Turkey's parliament, criticised the US position. "It would have been better if [Washington] had shown a positive approach," he said. One newspaper commentator wrote that Ankara had been left high and dry by the US. Mr Davutoglu had taken care to keep US officials informed during his long negotiations with Tehran and received positive feedback from Washington throughout the process, the columnist Asli Aydintasbas wrote in yesterday's Milliyet newspaper. "If a nuclear exchange does not solve this issue, what were the American officials thinking when they talked with Davutoglu three times a day?"

Mr Davutoglu also indicated that he felt betrayed by the Americans, media reports said. "The announcement [about the deal] includes everything the West wants," Mr Davutoglu told William Hague, his British counterpart, according to the Hurriyet newspaper. "In particular, all conditions wanted by the US have been fulfilled." Some observers suspect strategic concerns are behind Washington's resistance against the deal brokered by Turkey and Brazil. The agreement had been hammered out by "two countries that are beginning to be regarded as 'new global players'," Ibrahim Karagul, a columnist for the pro-government Yeni Safak newspaper, wrote yesterday.

The United States and other big powers were concerned that they could lose influence on the world stage, Karagul added. "I am convinced the central powers see the future potential of the two countries that have entered the forbidden turf of those who shape global affairs as a greater threat than Iran." @Email:tseibert@thenational.ae