Nathan Gardels: Turkey is now the main mediator between the West and Iran over Iran’s nuclear program. Many are looking to Turkey as the last hope of preventing confrontation. Yet, some worry that Turkey is not so concerned if Iran gets a bomb and that its interventions are just buying time for Iran. How serious is Turkey? What role can it really play?
Abdullah Gul: First of all, let me say that you should not underestimate how seriously we take the issue of a nuclearized Iran. After all, we are neighbors and nuclear weapons would threaten us most of all. We are the first to object.
Having said that, all our efforts are going to solving the issue diplomatically. The last thing we need is another war in this region. The war in Iraq caused us immense problems, both economically and politically. It created huge security and immigration problems.
We believe we can uniquely contribute to the diplomatic solution because we are the only ones in the NATO alliance that can talk directly to the Iranian leadership and have a frank and free exchange of opinions.
A deal with Iran
Gardels: What is the essence of the deal that can be made with Iran?
Gul: If you look at the so-called “Additional Protocol” of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Security Council, it is about “confidence building measures.” Our role in the end is to continue pushing Iran down this road of confidence building toward a diplomatic solution.
Gardels: Do you believe the Iranians are negotiating in good faith? Or are they using talks with Turkey to buy time as their enrichment goes forward so they have break-out capacity for a weapon?
Gul: I can’t say “no” they are not seeking a bomb; I can’t say “yes” they are.
We don’t know. The only agency that can answer this question is the IAEA. Iran is not only a member of the IAEA but also a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty. So, they are obliged to show transparency over all aspects of their nuclear program.
The issue at hand is whether or not there is enough transparency on Iran’s part. At the UN General Assembly last week, President Obama said the door remains open to diplomacy. But he said the Iranian government must demonstrate a clear and credible commitment through more transparency and confirm to the world the peaceful intent of its nuclear program. Iran must respond to this. And we are ready to help them do so.
Gardels: Since there has been talk in the ruling AK Party here in Turkey about criminalizing adultery, I wonder what you think about the case of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, who was condemned to death in Iran by stoning for adultery? The French foreign minister called the sentence “the height of barbarism.” Her fate now is unclear. She may not be stoned, but still executed.
Gul: Of course, Turkey doesn’t approve of such things. Turkey has been very involved in helping free people who have been arrested in Iran, many of whom have written books about this. Ashtiani’s lawyer came here to Turkey for safety, though he has now left for Norway on his own accord.
The Gaza flotilla incident
Gul: It is all about international law. Israel is a member of the United Nations. Israel cannot think and act as if it is outside those boundaries. They attacked a Turkish ship in international waters.
Gardels: Israel’s concern, of course, is that they are attacked from Gaza. You speak to Hamas just as you speak to the Iranians. Have you told Hamas that they should stop attacking Israel?
Gul: Yes. Hamas leaders visited Ankara after their election victory in 2006. We told them then they should act democratically as a responsible government and stop firing rockets into Israel. We told them they should tell both the US and Europeans that they are willing to live side by side with Israel as a Palestinian state.
Israel must deal with its culpability
Gardels: Are you looking for an apology from Israel over the Gaza flotilla attack?
Gul: We would have preferred to solve the issue on a bilateral basis. But, as we’ve seen, Israel has not been forthcoming. Therefore, two panels have been established in the UN – it has been taken up by the Human Rights Commission, which said last week that Israel violated international law, and by a special panel set up by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the Security Council.
Israel must now deal with its culpability on this issue in that framework. So far, Israel is just defending their actions and criticizing Turkey as if we did something wrong.