Last Updated: Mon Dec 27, 2010 23:16 pm (KSA) 20:16 pm (GMT)

Turkey, Iran and a nuclear OPEC

Bülent Keneş

Turkey’s facilitator role in nuclear negotiations between Iran and the West (specifically the P5+1) has resumed with some change in form. After much noise and clatter after Turkey voted “no” to the United Nations Security Council’s resolution on a number of sanctions against Iran, the parties chose İstanbul as the venue for their meeting slated for late January 2011, which confirms Turkey’s objective and neutral role and position in these talks.

As a short reminder, Turkey had teamed up with Brazil to step in at a time when talks came to a standstill, and, in collaboration with the U.S. and other Western allies, met with Iran. A uranium swap deal was signed on May 17, 2010, in Tehran as a confidence-building measure in the settlement of the nuclear dispute. This deal, inked by and between Iran and Turkey and Brazil, had been announced as the Tehran Declaration.

Despite the fact that a nuclear fuel swap deal had been concluded with the criteria they had previously specified, the U.S.-lead camp, offended even by Iran’s peaceful nuclear research, had adopted a series of sanctions at the UN Security Council in order to bring Iran into line. During voting, Turkey and Brazil had said “no,” which sparked heated debates about Turkey’s likely alienation from the Western camp, and this voting had been used as major proof of an axis change. But was this what had really happened? On the day of voting, why did Turkey -- which had exerted much effort to ensure that Lebanon and Bosnia and Herzegovina did not say no -- say no to the sanctions in the first place? Why was it asked to host nuclear talks in İstanbul although it had said no to the sanctions? If there is an inconsistency about this, is it Turkey’s or those who claimed Turkey’s axis had shifted?

The answers to these questions are not so complicated. Vigilant observers of the process are quite aware of the fact that the U.S.-led Western camp has been applying double standards to the issue of nuclear weapons. But still, what Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said during a year-end meeting he held on Saturday with representatives of various newspapers and TV channels to evaluate the performance of Turkish diplomacy in 2010 has the potential to shed light on how Turkey sees the whole picture.

For Davutoğlu, everything Turkey did in connection with nuclear negotiations with Iran was in compliance with its “principled policy.” Stressing that Turkey, like other countries, “is definitely against an Iran that possesses nuclear weapons,” Davutoğlu elaborated: “We don’t want any country to possess nuclear weapons. We regard the limitations on peaceful nuclear technology not as security oriented, but as economically motivated. This is because nuclear weapons are a matter of security while nuclear technology is a matter of economics. We do not want Iran to have nuclear weapons, but we are against other countries’ attempt to impose limitations on the use of nuclear technology for peaceful purposes under the pretext of doubts.”

Apparently, Ankara has doubts and concerns that the countries that are trying to keep Iran from pursuing its nuclear activities are trying to prevent developing countries like Turkey from using nuclear energy. Indeed, the Turkish economy is growing rapidly and aims to become one of the world’s top 10 countries with an economy worth $2.5 trillion by 2023 -- the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the republic. As it does not have natural energy resources such as natural gas or oil and has only limited renewable energy resources, there is only one source that can supply the energy Turkey will need: nuclear energy. Moreover, once nuclear energy technology is acquired, it stands out as the cheapest form of energy.

As noted by Davutoğlu, there are four categories of countries with respect to possession of nuclear energy and/or nuclear weapons. The first category consists of the countries which, like the P5 countries, have nuclear weapons and, at the same time, are parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The second category includes the countries that are not party to the NPT, but have nuclear weapons, such as Pakistan, India and North Korea. The third category is the group of countries that use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes but do not have nuclear weapons, and this group includes Brazil, Canada, South Korea and Japan. The fourth category contains the countries that are parties to the NPT, but do not have nuclear weapons or nuclear energy. Although Iran is in the third category, there are concerns that it may move into the second category in the event of a lack of adequate supervision. Accordingly, Turkey argues that Iran’s nuclear activities should be transparent and open to international inspection. In their talks with their Iranian counterparts Turkish officials say, “If you intend to enter the second category, you will find us confronting you before the U.S. does.”

Not only its intention of contributing to regional and global peace and stability, but Turkey’s intent to protect its own interests as part of its rational foreign policy play a role in its desire to be a facilitator in talks with Iran. In this regard, Turkey does not want big guns to impose excessive limitations on nuclear energy technology that developing countries need vitally, citing the concern that Iran might possess nuclear weapons. It especially does not want a nuclear fuel bank to be established that will be controlled solely by the countries that already possess nuclear technology.

It is particularly concerned that the nuclear powers that have completed their economic development might establish a “nuclear OPEC” to control and manipulate provision and pricing of nuclear fuels as this will subject developing countries, like Turkey, to unfair competition in international economics and its excessive dependency on foreign powers in respect of energy will continue. As a country that needs nuclear energy for its economic growth initiatives and targets, Turkey does not want a crisis to emerge in its region in connection with a country’s nuclear weapons ambitions. At the same time, is concerned that big guns’ attempts to create a nuclear monopoly might destroy the economic competitiveness of countries like Turkey.

It is for these reasons that Turkey, which is against all nuclear weapons in the region and around the world, including Israel’s nuclear weapons capability, is trying to lead the way to a peaceful settlement of the problem. In this context, it deeply regrets that Iran was not given the opportunity to prove its case with the Tehran Declaration, which had the potential of being a litmus test for Iran’s good or bad intentions. And it does not accept any mediation initiative without direct request from the parties. For the time being, Turkey has invested hope in the İstanbul talks slated for late January, in which its role is restricted to hosting the talks.


*Published in Turkey's TODAY ZAMAN on Dec. 27, 2010.

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