Turkey FM warns against strike on Iran

"We don’t need tension at historic turning point for the region," says Davutoglu.

By REUTERS
February 12, 2012 02:40
4 minute read.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu 390 (R). (photo credit: REUTERS/Osman Orsal )

 
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WASHINGTON – Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu warned Friday against a possible strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, saying it would be catastrophic for the region.

“A military strike is a disaster. It should not be an option,” he said during an appearance at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Especially at a historic turning point in our region, we do not want to see another huge tension.”

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Davutoglu also took a dim view of sanctions, pointing out that during the last two years of the sanction regime, the Iranians had greatly increased their production of low-enriched uranium and taken other steps towards become a nuclear power.

Negotiation, Davutoglu argued, was the only path that would produce results, and he calculated that if the US and Iran sent representatives vested with real authority into talks, the matter could be resolved within days. He added that he had conveyed the Iranian willingness to have a meeting with world powers in the near future to EU Foreign Policy chief Catherine Ashton.

Davutoglu’s Washington visit comes at a time when the program of “zero problems with neighbors” he engineered for Turkey – resulting in its reorientation from a Western-focused foreign policy – is being challenged by the threat of instability from Iran’s nuclear program and the Arab uprisings roiling the region.

The reorientation policy has also shifted Ankara away from Israel and caused strain in its ties with the United States, which are being tested during his Washington discussions with members of Congress and State Department officials during his multi-day tour. He will meet with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Monday.

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, chairwoman of the US House Foreign Affairs Committee, put out a statement following her meeting with the foreign minister Thursday in which she took him to task for Ankara’s positions on Israel.

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“Through Turkey’s sponsorship of radical Islamist flotillas to Gaza, its ties to violent extremist groups and its unwillingness to pressure Iran, Turkey risks facilitating more instability in an already fragile region,” she said. “I urge Turkey to reconsider its policies and actions toward Israel, and to do everything it can to pressure Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions.”

Davutoglu met with several Congressmen on Capitol Hill, where Iran and Israel featured prominently in their conversations.

But the consultations also touched on points of US-Turkish cooperation, including Afghanistan and Turkey’s recent denunciations of Syrian leader Bashar Assad.

“Members here and the foreign minister are both very clear that we’re allies and it’s a strong alliance, and it’s one where we work together on a lot of issues,” said one Congressional aide. “But the relationship with Israel is one where there are clear disagreements and a lot of frank discussions.”

He described the meetings as “cordial but frank,” with accord on many points, but Israel looming as “the elephant in the room.”

On Friday at CSIS, Davutoglu compared both Israel and Assad to former Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic, who carried out massacres in Bosnia in the 1990s.

“We wanted President Assad to be like a Gorbachev, to transform the system,” he said of Turkey’s stance toward its neighbor at the beginning of unrest in Syria that ended up triggering a bloody crackdown.

“But he preferred to be like Milosevic. It was his choice. And today we are siding with the people of Homs, like we sided with the people of Sarajevo, like we sided with the people of Gaza against Israel.”

Davutoglu indicated that while his country is in principle opposed to foreign intervention, the case of Syria was an exception.

“If there is oppression by an autocratic leader against the people, nobody can expect us or the international community to be silent,” he said.

Following the Arab revolts that have succeeded in ousting strong-fisted leaders, Davutoglu said the international community must support the newly elected governments, including the Muslim Brotherhood elements within the Egyptian parliament.

“We should not look at the composition of the parliament and say… ‘What will be happening to the security of Israel if the conservative Muslim Brotherhood government comes to power in Egypt?’” he said. “This should not be the concern. For Egypt, there is only one authority to decide: the Egyptian people. No other concern should lead us.”

He also emphasized the importance of pushing Hamas and Fatah to reconcile, praising the new power-sharing agreement between the two. He described its most important aspect as an agreement to use “peaceful resistance,” which he said meant Hamas was changing its modus operandi.

“We have to support this national reconciliation. Without such national reconciliation, there cannot be a meaningful peace process,” he said. “Without having one authority, even if one side makes a deal, it will be very hard to implement.”

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