Caught in the fray: Turkey enters debate on Iran's nuclear program
As the IAEA meets Thursday to discuss referring Iran to the UN Security Council, Turkey deliberates its own stance.
Blanketed in deep snow and shivering through subzero temperatures for most of the past two weeks, Turkey recently had to contend with yet another piece of chilling news. Supplies of natural gas from Iran, used for heating homes and powering factories, were unexpectedly cut by almost 80 percent.Skip to next paragraph
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The Iranians, who supply close to a fifth of Turkey's natural-gas supply, blamed the shortfall on technical problems and increased demand at home.
But some Turkish analysts, noting Iran's ability to offer emergency gas supplies to Georgia during the same period, suggested another reason: By choking off the gas stream, Iran was sending a not-so-subtle message to its neighbor to stay out of any Western efforts to rein in its disputed nuclear program.
The timing would make sense. After staying on the sidelines of the international debate over Iran's nuclear efforts, Turkey has recently entered the fray.
During a mid-January press conference, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan called on Iran to adopt a more "moderate and amenable" approach in the diplomatic negotiations over its nuclear program.
"The continuation of Iran's nuclear program for peaceful ends is a natural right, but it is impossible to support it if it concerns [the development] of weapons of mass destruction," Erdogan said, echoing Western concerns.
US and European efforts to rein in Iran's nuclear program received a boost Monday, when Russia and China agreed to a resolution asking the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to refer Iran to the UN Security Council for sanctions at an emergency meeting in Vienna Thursday.
Meanwhile, the Turkish capital has been a revolving door of diplomatic traffic in recent months, with visits to Ankara from CIA chief Porter Goss and FBI head Robert Mueller, as well as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Israeli chief of staff Dan Halutz. According to reports in European and Turkish papers, one of the main reasons for the visits was to discuss Turkey's role in containing Iran's nuclear ambitions.
"My sense is that the Turkish strategic community, after some years of wariness but not deep concern, is now paying attention to the proliferation risks to Turkey," says Ian Lesser, a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington specializing in Mediterranean security issues.
"There is much more of a debate in Turkey now then there had been because it's not a theoretical issue anymore."
Turkey and Iran share a 310-mile border, and both Turkish and Iranian diplomats like to point out that the two Muslim neighbors have been at peace for centuries.
But Turkish analysts say that peace is based on a delicate balance of military power between the two countries, one that would be fundamentally disturbed if Iran were to acquire nuclear weapons.