Peres, Gul at odds over Iran nuke threat

Turkish president says he believes countries have the right to develop alternative sources of energy.

Gul Peres 224.88 (photo credit: GPO)
Gul Peres 224.88
(photo credit: GPO)
Differences over the gravity of the Iranian nuclear program were at the heart of talks on Monday between President Shimon Peres and his Turkish counterpart Abdullah Gul. Peres met with Gul for several hours at the Presidential Palace in Ankara and the two discussed a wide range of issues, including the Iranian nuclear threat, the fate of Israel's captured soldiers - Gilad Schalit, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev - as well as the upcoming Annapolis peace parley scheduled for later this month. Peres told Gul that Israel could not accept a nuclear Iran. In response, Gul said that while Turkey was against the development and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, it did believe that countries had the right to develop alternative sources of energy. On Friday, Turkey's parliament passed a bill paving the way for the construction of three nuclear reactors, planned to be operational by 2015. In what officials said was an odd break in the rules of international diplomacy, Peres spoke frankly at a press conference following the meeting and told reporters that he disagreed with Gul. He said he told the Turkish leader that Israel was not willing to accept Ankara's line of thinking and that Iran, which has vast resources of oil and natural gas, was not in need of an alternative source of energy. "Iran does not need nuclear energy," said Peres. "I know the president has a different assessment, but we feel threatened." Israeli officials here explained that while Turkey's stance on Iran was slightly at odds with Israel's, both countries were mutually concerned with the possibility that Iran would one day obtain nuclear weapons. "Iran is a neighbor of Turkey and they are well aware of the negative consequences to the entire world if Iran gets nuclear weapons," an official explained. "They just are not certain, as we are, that Iran's program is for military purposes." Another sensitive issue raised during the talks focused on the US Congress initiative to formally recognize the Armenian genocide of 1915. Gul told Peres that Turkey would not tolerate this issue being raisedevery few months. "It is not worth ruining today's good relations over an event of the past," Gul told Peres. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was recently in Washington for talks with the Bush administration about the congressional initiative. Peres said that Israel supported Turkey's initiative to set up a team of Armenian and Turkish historians to examine the events of 1915-17. Gul thanked Peres for his efforts in working to thwart the US bill. Peres and Gul also discussed at length the Annapolis conference, and particularly the participation of other countries in the parley. Gul said that Turkey was in discussion with Syria, Iran and Iraq regarding the differences between various Middle Eastern countries. "As a country that is a party to the problem, it is important that Syria participates," Gul said. In addition Gul said that Syrian President Bashar Assad told him in Ankara several weeks ago that Damascus was interested in renewing negotiations with Israel and that it believed in lasting peace. Peres welcomed the participation of all "moderate countries," saying "the voice of peace will be stronger and louder" with more participants attending. But he accused Syria of not taking steps for peace. Peres expressed cautious optimism regarding the peace process with the Palestinians. He said that while the two to four weeks remaining before Annapolis was not enough time to solve the remaining problems, "Annapolis is a station on the way to peace, and afterwards, real negotiations will begin." Gul also warned Israel against taking any unilateral steps vis à vis the Palestinians ahead of the parley and that Israel needed to stick to a two-state solution. In response, Peres said that he wasn't aware of any unilateral steps Israel planned to take and added that Hamas was the "only entity taking unilateral steps." Gul declared that Turkey would work to secure the release of the captured IDF soldiers and said that he viewed the issue first and foremost as a humanitarian matter. Peres also asked Gul for permission to borrow Israel-related artifacts from Turkish museums for Israel's 60th anniversary celebrations. On Tuesday, Peres, Gul and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will discuss plans to set up an industrial park in the West Bank. The industrial zone is expected to create jobs for thousands of Palestinians. Turkey is waiting for Abbas's government to decide how much land can be allocated for the project. Also Tuesday, Peres will become the first Israeli president to speak before the legislature of a Muslim country. Abbas will separately address the Turkish Parliament on Tuesday.