Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Turk Ambassador Warns Iran Heading for Nuclear Weapons

Turkish Daily News:
Turkey's ambassador to the United States said that Iran was "irreversibly" heading for acquisition of nuclear weapons and called for the launching of direct dialogue between Washington and Tehran on the matter. Ankara in the past has voiced concerns over an Iran with nuclear weapons capabilities, but Ambassador Faruk Loethoethlu's remarks were the first on-the-record comments by a senior Turkish official that Tehran was producing an atomic bomb.

"In my view, Iran is irreversibly bent on having nuclear weapons," Logoethlu told the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies on Monday, a think tank based near Washington. "Iran's nuclear weapons would be a serious threat for security in the Middle East. The European Union effort is unlikely to succeed." Noting that in order for a "carrot-and-stick" policy to be able to stop the process, the "carrot" should come from the United States; Loethoethlu urged Washington to agree to start direct dialogue with Tehran. READ MORE

"Direct U.S.-Iran talks are needed, but I don't think this is likely in 2006," he said.

"The Iranian situation will inevitably affect Turkey," Loethoethlu said. "Tensions between the United States and Iran will reflect on our relations with the United States and Iran." Loethoethlu is due to retire after his four-year Washington assignment ends at the end of this year.

Iran says its nuclear plans are limited to peaceful electricity generation. But it hid potentially arms-related technology from a United Nations nuclear watchdog for 18 years.

The United States, among other accusations, accuses Iran of seeking to obtain nuclear weapons. U.S. President George W. Bush says he prefers a diplomatic solution to the nuclear crisis with Iran but warns that "all options are on the table." Washington has no diplomatic relations with Tehran.

Britain, France and Germany, the EU trio holding talks on Iran's nuclear program, resume low-level talks with Iranian officials in Vienna on Wednesday, but EU diplomats expressed little optimism that talks with Tehran's hard-line government would yield a breakthrough.

Iran's decision to resume uranium conversion, a precursor to the most critical phase of the nuclear fuel cycle, uranium enrichment, is not the only thing casting a shadow on the talks.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's call for Israel to be "wiped off the map" and his declaration that the Holocaust was a myth have only increased Western fears about Iran's nuclear plans.

Turkish officials said they had warned their southeastern neighbor against nuclear weapons ambitions in recent bilateral talks. When Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoethan met with Ahmadinejad on the sidelines of a U.N. world leaders' summit in New York in September, he made clear that the United States and its allies would not let Tehran obtain nuclear weapons, Turkish government sources said.

Concerns over Iran were on the agenda when Bush's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, visited Ankara recently. Robert Joseph, U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, later had Iran talks with his counterparts at the Turkish Foreign Ministry. It was not made public if Iran's nuclear efforts were discussed when the CIA director met with Turkish officials in Ankara last week.

Until recently the Europeans had hoped Iran would consider a Russian proposal that would allow it to continue processing uranium but would move the enrichment phase to Russia.

This would enable Iran to exercise its right to enrich uranium, a process that produces fuel for power plants or weapons while providing what the EU calls "objective guarantees" that Tehran will not secretly produce nuclear arms. But Iran has said repeatedly that it wants to enrich uranium on its own soil, not in Russia or anywhere else.

Iran's nuclear efforts are also causing great concern in Israel, with some Israeli officials warning that their country might have to act militarily unless the world fails to prevent Tehran from obtaining the atomic bomb.