Iran, Turkey, the West

Europe still keeps Turks from gates of Vienna; the US is skeptical of Iran's thaw. Wiser approaches are needed.

Despite the Kyoto pledges of America and Europe to burn less oil in coming decades, neither has lost interest in drilling for the stuff that makes most factories and vehicles go. And rightly so.

Solar, wind, thermal, and nuclear power will certainly be on the increase. Petroleum will doubtless be burned or fuel-celled more efficiently. But the appetite for crude oil's many products (plastics and lubricants as well as jet, car, home, and factory fuels) will rise before declining. And, remember, Kyoto didn't win any promises from China, India, Brazil, and scores of other nations.

All of which brings us back once more to the subject of Iran and Turkey. In the oil context, they happen to lie astride pipeline routes and sea lanes for moving Caspian basin oil and gas out to the West and elsewhere. They also wield influence over the stability of petroleum delivery from what remains the world's biggest oil spigot, the region around the Persian Gulf.

That's the hard-headed commercial reason for being serious about these two quite different powers in the Islamic world. There are, of course, other social and political reasons for the West to aim at good relations. That's why the interests of both Europe and America require genuine efforts to break current impasses.

Until fairly recently, it appeared that the EU and US might play Turkey off against Iran. That policy involved making Turkey a Western surrogate to states abutting the Black and Caspian Seas and beyond. The strategy was to make use of both roots and routes. Namely, historic Turkic roots that tied peoples in heartland Asia to Turkey, and logical routes for pipelines.

That approach would have allowed Washington to pursue its increasingly ineffective "dual containment" policy of isolating Iran and Iraq. But nothing went quite right.

Europe, having depended heavily on Turkey as NATO's strong anchor during the cold war, kept delaying the marriage it had dangled in front of Ankara. There was engagement, yes: a customs union, and promises of more. But the ceremony date was ever receding. And last week the fiance rebelled. Turkey angrily rejected a proposed conference with Europe that looked like a sop to cover the fact that Cyprus and five nations from the old Soviet bloc had been invited to start membership talks with the European Union and five others were offered preparatory talks.

Meanwhile, Washington was handling a direct overture from Iran's new, more moderate government with hesitant ambiguity. In the wake of fulminations from Tehran's powerful Ayatollah Khamenei, the vastly more popular President Khatami said he wanted to start a dialogue with the people of the US. That was the Iranian revolution's equivalent of ping-pong diplomacy. President Clinton replied in kind. But there the action seemed to stop.

US caution is understandable. After all, half a century of trying to protect, corral, or isolate Iran led only to an 18-year estrangement while the Iranian revolution burned out.

Logical as the paths of the EU and US may be, their responses this week have been inadequate.

Europe has only added to the impression that it is building a gated Christian club - many of whose members are just as secular in everyday life as Turkey is.

Superpower Washington leaves the impression that it is too weak to enter explorations with Iran over many of its highest priority aims. Among those: halting nuclear weapons spread, having pipelines in friendly rather than adversarial hands, curbing terrorism, protecting Arab allies from subversion, and perhaps furthering Israeli-Arab peace.

GREECE will object. And so may Germany. But Europe needs to come to grips with creating a firmer special relationship with Turkey, which has served so faithfully in NATO, supplied guest workers, and tried over many decades to become more European.

Obviously there must be some bounds to the EU. No one is suggesting a Europe from the Sahara to the pole and Atlantic to Urals. But the deal worked out with Russia on NATO suggests that a way could be found to bring Turkey a step nearer, economically, culturally, and politically.

Then, the US and Iran: If Henry Kissinger could go to China at the height of Vietnam War rancor, Mr. Clinton can find a way to get explorations going with Iran - in Switzerland, at the UN, or elsewhere. No Koran and cake, please. No letting down of skepticism. But quiet, frank meetings to lay out Washington's interests and hear Iran's, particularly its trade and oil investment needs.

As we've seen with post-cold war Russia and China, the period after containment isn't always smooth. But it's generally rewarding.

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