ISTANBUL (Combined Sources)—The foreign ministers of Russia and Turkey on signed a strategic cooperation protocol in a bid to enhance their bilateral relations Thursday ahead of a scheduled meeting Friday of a six-state meeting to discuss Iran’s nuclear issue.
Lavrov arrived in Istanbul Wednesday night to participate in a meeting of a high-level cooperation council between Russia and Turkey.
While the details of the agreement were not revealed, the Russian and Turkish ministers said they discussed relations between their two countries as well as regional and international issues. They met in Istanbul ahead of the High Level Cooperation Council’s Common Strategic Planning Group meeting, which will be held in Moscow in the spring, reported Hurriyet Daily News.
“Both our countries are committed to reach the $100 billion in trade cooperation [targeted] by our leaders in previous meetings,” Lavrov said, adding that the two countries had significantly improved their relations in recent years. “Turkish construction firms’ investments sum up to some $20 dollars,” he said, adding that more than 3 million Russian tourists came to Turkey last year, a figure that would surely rise once all legal procedures are finalized to allow the liberalization of the visa regime between Turkey and Russia.
The two countries are also determined to continue strengthening their cooperation in the energy sector, Lavrov said.
Davutoğlu said he had also exchanged ideas on regional and global issues with his Russian counterpart. “We talked about recent developments in the Middle East and other regions such as the Caucasus, the Balkans and Central Asia,” he said.
Lavrov said both Russia and Turkey were committed to contribute to resolving issues in Balkan countries, such as helping Bosnia and Herzegovina become stronger and contribute to the acceleration of talks between Belgrade and Pristina.
High on the agenda of the two leaders’ meetings was Iran and the international sanctions to curtail that country’s nuclear programs.
Both the Turkish and Russian foreign ministers said their governments were against Iran utilizing its nuclear program to create weapons but supported its use for peaceful purposes.
The two-day talks starting Friday in Istanbul will mainly focus on Iran’s nuclear program. They follow a first round in Geneva last month, which broke a 14-month hiatus in negotiations between Iran and the so-called P5+1 group of world powers that comprises Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States and Germany.
The Geneva talks ended without any tangible outcome but the fact that the two sides agreed to continue the negotiations and fixed a second meeting in six weeks’ time was seen as a positive sign, notably by host country Turkey, which is close to Iran and has been pressing for a diplomatic settlement to the row.
In May, Turkey and Brazil brokered a fuel-swap deal with Tehran that would have seen Iran ship much of its low-enriched uranium to Turkey in return for nuclear fuel rods needed for a medical research reactor. Western nations rejected the deal and backed a fourth round of U.N. sanctions against Iran on June 9. Both Turkey and Brazil voted against the sanctions.
“Turkey’s position is very clear: We are against nuclear weaponry systems, but we are in favor of peaceful nuclear technology and [think] all the countries have the right to have peaceful nuclear energy,” Davutoğlu said in the meeting, adding that it was the responsibility of all countries to prevent the proliferation of nuclear arms. “[This] is the line where negotiations should continue.”
The Turkish foreign minister called for an agreement for Iran to assure that it is running its nuclear program for peaceful purposes, saying the proper mechanism could also be found in the talks. “We hope that this will be achieved,” he said.
His Russian counterpart, Lavrov, said it was important other issues apart from Iran’s nuclear program, such as the removal of sanctions against Tehran and regional cooperation issues, be on the agenda of the Jan. 21 to 22 talks as well. “We hope we will get a positive result from the talks,” the top Russian diplomat said.
“The P5+1 have presented to Iran some time ago an elaborate effort, which includes as a centerpiece the resolution of the nuclear issue through Iranian full cooperation with the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency], including Iran joining an additional protocol and some other mechanisms, not strictly obligatory, but which should be required given the history of the Iranian nuclear issue,” Lavrov said.
He added that the offer also included positive incentives that would be engaged if Iran cooperated, including a proposal for cooperation on security issues, taking into account the legitimate security concerns of Iran and of all other countries in the region.
According to Lavrov, the offer also stated that when IAEA reports the Iranian nuclear program has been found peaceful, Iran would have absolutely the same right as any other non-nuclear member of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which includes the possibility to enrich uranium for fuel purposes. He also stressed the importance of considering lifting sanctions against Iran. “[Russia] never supported unilateral sanctions,” he said, adding that sanctions undermined confidence among parties as well.
Western powers suspect that Iran wants to use its uranium-enrichment activities to build a nuclear bomb. Tehran denies the charge, insisting its program is a peaceful effort to produce nuclear energy.