'We can't say Iran is pursuing nukes without evidence'

Turkish president speaks of wanting ME free of atomic weapons, relations with Israel after flotilla raid, canceled meeting with Peres in NY.

September 21, 2010 11:21
2 minute read.
Turkish president Abdullah Gul

Abdullah Gul 311. (photo credit: AP)

UNITED NATIONS — Turkish President Abdullah Gul will call for a Middle East totally free of nuclear weapons when he addresses the UN General Assembly later this week, he told the Associated Press in an interview on Monday.

"We would like to see our region free of nuclear weapons," Gul said in the interview. "The region should not be under such a threat."

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Turkish president cancels New York meeting with Peres
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Gul has called in the past for a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East, but his latest comments come amid deteriorating relations with Israel following the May 31 IDF interception of a Gaza-bound flotilla in which nine Turks were killed.

Israel is generally assumed to have assembled a sizable arsenal of nuclear warheads since the 1960s, but declines to discuss its status as a nuclear power.

'We want Iran to be transparent'

The US has been more concerned about the nuclear program in Iran, which is under four sets of Security Council sanctions for refusing to stop its uranium enrichment and ignoring other UN demands meant to ease global concerns that it is seeking to make atomic weapons.

Gul said Turkish officials do not assume that Iran has a fully peaceful nuclear program, but "of course we cannot accuse Iran" of pursuing nuclear weapons without evidence.

"We want Iran to be transparent" with the IAEA officials, he said. "We in Turkey would like to see a peaceful, a diplomatic solution to this problem."

Turkey has opposed sanctions against Iran as ineffective and damaging to its interests with an important neighbor.

Turkey, a member of the NATO alliance, has been governed by an Islamic-rooted party since 2002 that has tried to improve relations with Iran.

'In the old world, wars would follow'

Gul said Israel's deadly raid on the flotilla attempting to breach the Gaza blockade would be best handled under international law, but also suggested that Israel still needs to take public responsibility.

"It is not possible to act as though this incident did not take place," he said. "In the old world, in the old times, if such an incident were to take place, wars would follow. But in our world today, it is international law that has to be taken into consideration.

"It is up to Israel. They have to do what is necessary since they are the ones that created the incident," he said.

'Meeting with Peres was never scheduled'

Earlier news reports had said that Gul and President Shimon Peres planned to meet in New York this week.

Gul told the AP that no such meeting had ever been scheduled. Peres said Monday that the planned meeting was scrapped because Turkey had set unacceptable conditions.

Turkey has repeatedly demanded that Israel apologize for the flotilla raid, and senior Israeli officials on Monday confirmed that Gul had made such an apology a condition for the meeting.

"I got some conditions which made this meeting in my judgment not a positive one," Peres told reporters at the UN on Monday.

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