Turkey: Materials likely destined for Iran nuclear program seized (video)

Turkey is determined to prevent Iran from possessing a nuclear weapon, Namik Tan, Turkey's ambassador to the US, said Thursday. It intercepted materials Iran might have used to advance its nuclear program, he says.

Michael Bonfigli /The Christian Science Monitor
Turkish Ambassador to the US Namik Tan spoke to reporters at a Monitor-hosted breakfast on Thursday in Washington, D.C.

Turkey has intercepted materials destined for Iran that could have been used to advance Tehran’s nuclear program, Turkey’s ambassador to Washington said Thursday.

The Turkish official, Namik Tan, said Turkey, as Iran’s neighbor, is perhaps more determined than other more distant countries to keep Iran from possessing a nuclear weapon, and he suggested that Turkish-Iranian relations are deteriorating over the nuclear issue.

“Some other countries have tried to transfer certain goods which would help Iran’s nuclear program, and we have stopped them,” Ambassador Tan said at a Monitor breakfast gathering of reporters.

Tan refused to divulge any other information about the interception, including what the materials were, when it happened, and the country of origin, but he insisted that Turkey would never accept the existence of a nuclear bomb next door in Iran. Alluding to one line of thinking in Washington – that the international community will ultimately fail to stop Tehran’s progress and so the real objective becomes containing a nuclear Iran – Tan said Turkey would never resign itself to an Iranian bomb.

“Even if you come to terms with a nuclear Iran, we will be against it,” he said.

Turkish officials this year have acknowledged intercepting Iranian planes and trucks suspected of transporting arms to Syria, but US officials have repeatedly expressed concerns about Turkey serving as a conduit for Iran to procure equipment for its nuclar program – especially with bilateral trade soaring.  

Ankara’s representative to Washington also confirmed that the Turkish government is seeking military equipment including drones from Washington, as part of an effort to enhance its border defenses.

Turkey’s robust trade relations with Iran have been hurt recently by actions on the Iranian side, Tan suggested. That comment comes amid a boom in Turkish-Iranian trade, but also in the aftermath of recent warnings out of Tehran that did not go down well in Ankara.

Tehran recently warned Turkey that bilateral trade will suffer if Turkey does not alter a number of its policies, including what Iran sees as Turkish obedience to US demands. Trade between the two nations, at $10 billion in 2010, is estimated to reach $30 billion by 2016 absent any setback in relations.

The military adviser to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Gen. Yahya Rahim-Safavi, told the Mehr news agency recently that Turkey had “committed a few strategic wrongs” by agreeing to the installation of a NATO early-warning antimissile system on its soil, by touting its secular political system to Arab countries including Egypt, and by ratcheting u pressure on Syria’s embattled president, Bashar al-Assad.

“The Turks are trading a wrong path,” Rahmin-Safavi said, adding that Turkey would have to “accommodate Iran” if it wanted economic ties to flourish.

Tan’s tone Thursday reflected mounting tension between the two countries as both angle for expanded influence in a roiling Middle East. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently took a tour of the Arab Spring countries – Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya – and promoted Turkey’s secular democracy as a model for Muslim countries.

The Iranian regime derided Turkey’s secularism as “unimaginable” for a Muslim country like Egypt. It also accuses Turkey of harboring opponents of Syria’s President Assad, who has been an ally of Tehran and provided it with a gateway for expanding its influence into the Mediterranean.

Tan said Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Turkey last weekend was the most recent evidence of close relations between the two countries – one “more equal than other powers,” the other a “regional power” – and he added that US leaders “up to President Obama” understand Turkey’s security concerns and its policies in the region.

Mr. Biden assured his Turkish hosts that the US would not abandon Iraq, letting it sink into instability, Tan said. And noting that Turkey has lengthy borders with neighbors who present different kinds of challenges – Syria, Iraq, Iran – Tan said US officials express an understanding of Turkey’s military requests.

“They know what we want the US to deliver,” he said, “and it includes the drones.”

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