Turkey Can Help Broker Accord With Iran, Gul Says

Turkish President Abdullah Gul
Turkey can help broker accord with Iran. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Turkey, which has backed diplomacy over sanctions to contain Iran’s nuclear program, can help broker an accord as the host of talks between the Islamic republic and world powers, President Abdullah Gul said.

Turkey expects to host the “very important” negotiations and “has the capacity to contribute,” Gul said in an interview with Bloomberg TV in London.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said today that Turkey was “agreed upon” as the location and the talks may start Nov. 15, the state-run Mehr news agency reported. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said no definite date has been set, according to the Anatolia news agency.

Gul, president since 2007 and foreign minister for four years before that, and Erdogan have overseen a shift in Turkey’s foreign policy that has disturbed some traditional allies in Europe, the U.S. and Israel. While the country began accession talks with the European Union in 2005, it has also pursued closer relations with neighbors in the Middle East including Iran and Syria, and has repeatedly criticized Israel, for decades a close security ally.

U.S. State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley said today Iran has responded to European Union foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton’s letter soliciting a meeting and “indicated it is prepared to move ahead.” Crowley said the U.S. hoped a meeting might take place by the end of the month, though a specific date and location hadn’t yet been agreed upon.

Series of Meetings

“We want to see a return to the kind of meeting we had a year ago,” Crowley told reporters in Washington. “We would like to see it be a series of meetings not just one. These are difficult, complex issues and clearly none of these issues can be resolved in a single meeting.”

Turkey in June joined Brazil to vote against a U.S.-backed resolution in the United Nations Security Council imposing tighter sanctions against Iran to curb its nuclear program on concern it may seek to develop atomic weapons. The two countries in May brokered an agreement with Iran to swap its nuclear fuel that was criticized by the U.S.

Iran wants the Turkey-Brazil accord to be part of the negotiations, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said last week. The accord would have allowed Iran to exchange some of the uranium it has enriched for fuel that is only usable in its Tehran medical research reactor.

The U.S. will offer a “revised” proposal for a fuel swap, State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley said on Oct. 28.

Gul said that Iran “has to be more transparent to convince the international community.”

‘Artificial Obstacles’

Gul also criticized the European Union for imposing “artificial obstacles” to Turkish membership, and said the deterioration in Turkey’s ties with Israel is the fault of the Jewish state. Israel should make amends according to international law for the “crime” it committed in killing nine Turkish activists aboard an aid ship in May, he said.

The incident hurt ties between the allies that had already been under strain since Israel’s 2008 incursion into the Gaza Strip. Israel said its soldiers were attacked by activists aboard the Turkish ship, as they sought to prevent it from breaching the blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Gul, 60, was elected by parliament over protests from the country’s secular army, which objected to his Islamist background and clashed with Erdogan over Gul’s nomination.

He’s the first holder of the post whose wife wears the traditional Islamic headscarf, one of the issues that has triggered tensions between Erdogan’s government and Turkey’s secular army and courts. When Gul was sworn in three years ago, the chief of Turkey’s General Staff and the secular main opposition party boycotted the ceremony.

State Secularism

Gul was a founding member of Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party or AK Party, and has been a loyal ally of the premier, who was jailed in 1998 on charges of seeking to undermine the secularism of the state.

In 2002, when the AK Party came to power, Erdogan was still banned from office because of that jail sentence, and Gul served as the party’s first prime minister for four months. He stepped aside in March 2003 for Erdogan to take the position after the AK-dominated parliament lifted the ban.

Erdogan and Gul have presided over record economic expansion, a surge in investment and a decline in the inflation rate to a 39-year low.

Turkey has drawn about eight times as much foreign direct investment as in the previous decade, according to the Treasury. Inflation averaged 12.5 percent under the Ak Party, from 72 percent in the previous six years. Gross domestic product grew at an annual pace of about 5 percent, and in the first half of 2010 growth exceeded 10 percent, rivaling China. The ISE-100 stock index has added more than 33 percent this year.

New Constitution

Gul today called for a new Turkish constitution that will strengthen rights and freedoms, a project Erdogan has said he’ll undertake if re-elected next year. The president also expressed concern about allegations that the Turkish media has been subjected to political pressure.

“We don’t want to hear anyone say that Turkey is a country with a bad reputation for press freedom,” Gul said.

Turkey was criticized by the EU when tax authorities imposed fines of more than $3 billion on the country’s biggest media group, Dogan Yayin Holding AS, in 2008 and 2009 after its publications became embroiled in a row with Erdogan over their coverage of a corruption scandal. The government said the penalty resulted from a routine inspection.

Later today, Gul will receive the Chatham House Prize from Queen Elizabeth II. The prize is awarded to “the statesperson who is deemed by Chatham House members to have made the most significant contribution to the improvement of international relations in the previous year.” Last year’s winner was former Brazilian President Luiz Ignacio Lula da Silva.

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