By Nikola Krastev, RFE/RL
NEW YORK -- Turkish President Abdullah Gul has
reiterated his country's commitment toward a peaceful resolution of the standoff
over Iran's nuclear program.
Speaking on September 24 at the Council on Foreign Relations think thank in New York, Gul said that Ankara's commitment to a diplomatic solution was dictated by the principle of nonviolence and a belief that negotiations are always the best tool in international diplomacy.
"In our view, patient diplomacy, engagement, and sustained negotiations stand a much better chance of producing the desired results than rigid sanctions, which end up hurting civilian populations and neighboring countries alike," Gul said.
"There is yet room and time for a peaceful and negotiated resolution of this sensitive issue. This opportunity should not be missed."
Abdullah Gul in a meeting with Iran's Supreme Leader in Tehran - March 2009
Turkey's vote in the UN Security Council against a new round of economic
sanctions on Tehran in June put it at odds with the United States and its
European allies, who suspect Iran of seeking to develop nuclear weapons. Iran
denies the accusations, insisting its nuclear program is devoted solely to
civilian power generation.
Washington had worked hard to reach a consensus within the Security Council in order to avoid "no" votes, but in the end Brazil and Turkey, both nonpermanent members, voted against the sanctions.
The sanctions were eventually adopted, but Turkey's vote signaled divisions on the issue within the council, the United Nations' highest executive body.
Access To Iran
Gul was quick to dispel any notion that Turkey's "no" vote at the Security Council hurt relations between traditional allies Ankara and Washington.
But he also pointed out that Turkey's proximity to several conflict zones allows the country to occasionally adopt policies that differ from those of its partners.
"We believe our vote reflected our principled stance in favor of a diplomatic solution. Our position does not, under any circumstances, mean unconditional support for Iran's nuclear program," Gul said.
"On the contrary, we have made it clear to the Iranians that we do not want Iran to have nuclear weapons in our neighborhood."
Gul stressed that Ankara enjoys direct access to the Iranian leadership, including to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, putting it in a unique position to act as an intermediary in times of crisis.
Risk To Relations
Gul's comments came at a delicate moment in relations between the United States and Turkey. A resolution is currently under consideration in the U.S. Congress to recognize as genocide the massacre of thousands of Armenians by Turkish forces in 1915.
Ankara vehemently opposes any mention of the word "genocide" and the passage of such a resolution would significantly complicate relations between the two allies.
Gul said that there had been a number of unfavorable comments on Turkey in the U.S. media and in the U.S. Congress over the last two months.
"Some issues that do not necessarily pertain directly to our bilateral relations with the United States have, nevertheless, had a bearing on our relationship; such as the draft resolutions on the events of 1915, Iran's nuclear program, and the Gaza aid-convoy incident," Gul said.
"Normally, issues like these would have nothing to do with the essence of our bilateral relations. They nevertheless pose a considerable risk to them."
The Turkish president attributed this "unfavorable narrative" to the gap between perceptions and realities about Turkey, which he said stemmed from biased judgments or inaccurate information.
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