ANKARA (AFP)–Turkey’s prime minister said Friday he was unlikely to go to Iran for joint talks with Brazil’s president because of Iran’s failure to try to resolve the row over its nuclear program.
“It seems that a trip to Iran on Monday is no longer possible for me as Iran has not taken that step on the issue,” he said. “If necessary my foreign minister may go, or I may go later,” he added. Erdogan said Turkey had “asked for a statement of determination” from Iran. “Together with Brazil, we wanted to make a contribution to the process,” he said.
Turkey had expected Iran to confirm a commitment to a proposed deal to hand over its low-enriched uranium in return for processed fuel for research reactor, with Turkey as a possible venue for the swap, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters.
The United States, meanwhile, has warned Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s upcoming visit to Tehran may be Iran’s last chance to engage the world over its nuclear program before new U.N. sanctions are imposed.
The Brazilian president has defended Iran’s nuclear activities, saying Tehran has the right to atomic energy. He has repeatedly said any sanctions would be counter-productive and ineffective.
But the U.S. State Department has indicated that time is running out before it puts forward a sanctions resolution in the U.N. Security Council. “In the next few weeks, we expect to table a resolution in New York,” State Department spokesman Philip Crowley told reporters in Washington on Thursday. “We continue to move forward on a sanctions resolution. We have a sense of urgency on this.”
Turkey and Brazil are both non-permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and have so far resisted U.S.-led efforts to push through a fourth package of sanctions over Iran’s failure to heed repeated ultimatums to suspend its sensitive uranium enrichment activities. “I think we would view the Lula visit as perhaps the last big shot at engagement,” a senior State Department official told reporters on condition of anonymity on Thursday.
Russia’s agreement to a new resolution would leave China as the last remaining holdout among the five veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council, bringing the prospect of sanctions much nearer.
The White House revealed that President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev had discussed Iran by telephone on Thursday and agreed to step up negotiations on a new sanctions package.
Diplomatic efforts to resolve the standoff have focused on U.N.-drafted proposals first put forward last October for Iran to ship out most of its stockpile of low-enriched uranium in return for the supply of nuclear fuel by the major powers. The plan aims to allay Western concerns that Iran might otherwise covertly enrich some of its stocks to the much higher level required for a nuclear bomb.
But Iran has repeatedly baulked at the idea of shipping out its stockpile before its receives the fuel for a Tehran medical research reactor and has demanded that the exchange happen simultaneously and on its own soil.
Last week, however, its ambassador to Brazil, Mohsen Shaterzadeh, indicated a softening of position, saying that it might be acceptable for the exchange to take place in a third country. Turkey, which although a close Western ally also has close relations with its eastern neighbour, has repeatedly offered to act as that third country.
Two key backers of Turkey’s mediation efforts–Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Qatari emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, both sympathetic to Iran–are also expected in Tehran from Sunday.
The two leaders held preparatory talks with Erdogan in Istanbul last weekend and gave Ankara’s mediation efforts their full blessing.