ISTANBUL - Turkish Daily News
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's controversial visit ended without any hope of progress on the nuclear row while it has yielded no concrete results on bilateral energy cooperation.
The nuclear row topped the agenda of talks with Ahmadinejad. The Turkish side tried to convince the Iranian president to give a positive answer to the latest offer drawn up by the six powers to end the five-year crisis over Tehran's nuclear drive. Ahmadinejad was noncommittal and he did not give an encouraging sign to the Turkish leaders that Tehran will take a step that will lead to a breakthrough, the Turkish Daily News learned. Turkish President Abdullah Gül was extremely clear on telling Ahmadinejad that there was a serious window of opportunity and the offer by the major powers included positive elements with a good basis for negotiations. Gül also told his Iranian counterpart that this window of opportunity might close soon and that Tehran should use properly the six weeks ahead, according to officials familiar with the talks.
Iran is offered an incentives package to freeze sensitive nuclear work or face more U.N. sanctions. The Iranian leader told his Turkish counterpart that it was impossible to take a decision in six weeks, let alone accept freezing the nuclear program.
The Turkish side was disappointed by the Iranian position. The Turkish side is worried that by living in a secluded society, Iranians are not reading world developments properly.
“Tehran is playing for time. They are waiting for the elections in the United States and especially they are counting on the Democratic candidate Barack Obama,” said a Turkish official. Obama pledged to talk to Iran, raising expectations for those seeking a nonmilitary solution to the row.
“First there is no guarantee that Obama will keep his word. Second, those who are in favor of a military solution might press for a strike before Obama comes to power,” said a Turkish official who also said the Turkish president conveyed the same message to Ahmadinejad, warning him not to make a strategic mistake.
The Turkish side is equally worried that Iran might be misreading developments in the Caucasus, counting to much on Russian support as the latter seems to be on a collision course with Washington.
“There too, could be miscalculation. As they are so much at odds with the Americans on the Caucasus issue they might prefer to have a less assertive position on the nuclear row,” a Turkish diplomat told the Turkish Daily News.
Though the Turkish officials, including the president were disappointed by what a diplomat called a “lack of understanding of realities,” they justified the visit by what the same diplomat called “our neighborly responsibility.”
Division within the Iranian administration
“As a neighbor, we did our share and told the Iranians about the consequences of their policy,” he said. The Turkish side also explained Ahmadinejad's stance by the fact that there were divisions within the Iranian administration. There are too many rivaling power centers in Iran and prior to the presidential elections in 2009, the rivalry increased between them making an opening in the nuclear row difficult.
Iran denies shares, leaves responsibility
Iran insisted on denying Turkey shares in production and sales rights if natural gas is found, while leaving to Turkey all responsibility and expenditures for searching for gas. Ankara would thus have to bear the costs even if no gas was found. The conditions put forward by the Iranians were not acceptable, said a Turkish official. A government official noted that difficulties in making business with Iran lie in divergences of business culture between the two countries. The skeptical attitude of Iran, whose energy resources were exploited in the past by Western states, had a role in the failure to reach a compromise. But Iran's attitude sparked suspicion on its intentions toward the Turkish side.
Turkish officials are also disturbed by the possibility that Iran might be pretending to conclude an energy deal, without any genuine intention to sign an agreement, as a show of force to Western countries that are preparing a new set of sanctions.
Iran and Turkey signed a memorandum of understanding on July 13,2007, allowing TPAO to pump 20 billion cubic meters of natural gas from the giant South Pars gas field.
Irked by the agreement,the US demanded that Ankara abandon the project, thus prompting Turkey to respond.