U.N. sanctions draft might test U.S.-Turkish ties

By Ibon Villelabeitia – Analysis

ANKARA (BestGrowthStock) – Turkey’s diplomatic drive to head off sanctions against Iran appeared to founder on U.S. resistance on Wednesday, but demonstrated Washington’s chief Muslim ally is increasingly minded to dance to its own tune.

A day after Turkey and Brazil announced a last-minute deal with Iran to send some of Tehran’s uranium abroad, the United States handed the U.N. Security Council a draft resolution that would expand sanctions against Tehran.

It was something of a public slap in the face for Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, who has pressed a vigorous foreign policy toward the European Union Ankara seeks to join, as well as the Middle East Turkey had long neglected. “Think big, you are Turks,” he is fond of telling fellow countrymen.

“Turkey took a bold initiative but the United States was disappointed with the result,” said Fadi Hakura from the London-based Chatham House think-tank.

The Turkey-Brazil mission could complicate a U.S. push for further penalties in the Security Council. China welcomed the fuel swap deal and a French Foreign Ministry spokesman said it would be considered once details are sent to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Analysts say the developments show the risks regional power Turkey is taking as it stakes a claim in Big Power diplomacy.

“Regardless of whether the Turkish-Brazilian deal stands or not this tells us something about how Turkey sees itself in a multipolar, multilateral world,” said Ian Lesser from the German Marshall Fund. “And obviously sometimes Washington and Europe are not going to like what they see from Turkey,” Lesser said.

ERDOGAN ENIGMA

Erdogan took a risk traveling to Tehran to negotiate the deal, involving transfer of low-grade uranium overseas for enrichment. Critics may feel Tehran simply used him to gain time.

Many in Washington see Turkey, with its growing economy, as a model of Islamic democracy that could be taken up elsewhere in the region. But in coaxing this favorite child into the Middle Eastern ring, the West must reckon with its caprices.

In 2003, the Turkish parliament shocked Washington, and indeed Erdogan, by rejecting a motion allowing allied troops to open a northern front in the Iraqi invasion using Turkish soil.

More recently it has been increasingly critical of Israel. Ankara’s improving relations with Iran and Syria, while offering some promise for U.S. foreign policy, comes with risks.

The nature of Erdogan’s moderate brand of Islamic politics, embracing the center right and nationalists, remains something of a mystery to many Turks, some accusing him of sharia ambitions. For foreigners, he can be still harder to read.

“If current trends continue, what we will see emerging in Turkey is not an Islamist foreign policy but a much more nationalist, defiant, independent, self-confident and self-centered strategic orientation,” Omer Taspinar, a professor at the National War College and Turkey expert, wrote recently.

“If the strategic relationship between Ankara and Washington continues to erode and prospects for joining the EU continue to recede, Turkey will certainly go its own way.”

NATIONAL INTERESTS

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu urged caution on Western allies over sanctions against Iran, with whom Turkey has energy and trade deals worth $11 billion.

“Ethically and legally I don’t think it is right now to discuss sanctions against Iran,” he told NTV private broadcaster late on Tuesday. “We think an embargo against Iran will harm Turkey’s national interests.”

Washington sees sanctions as key to halting what it suspects is Tehran’s enrichment program to build a nuclear bomb. Tehran says the program is for peaceful purposes.

U.S. officials have said they would consider a ‘no’ vote or an abstention from Ankara in the U.N. Security Council a letdown from an ally President Barack Obama called a vital strategic partner during a landmark visit here last year.

“The Iran issue threatens to become a foreign policy crisis for Turkey,” said Semih Idiz, a foreign policy analyst for Turkish media. “U.S.-Turkish ties are heading for a breaking point as a likely vote in the Security Council nears.”

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(Additional reporting by Daren Butler; editing by Ralph Boulton)

U.N. sanctions draft might test U.S.-Turkish ties