Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Turkey's Nuclear Iran Problem

The German Marshall Fund has just posted a new briefing by its astute Turkey analyst, Ian Lesser, about the difficult choices Ankara will have to make regarding the possibility of Iran developing nuclear weapons. From his piece:
Within the next few weeks, and in the absence of visible progress on the diplomatic front, the UN Security Council is likely to take up the question of new economic sanctions against Iran. This will pose serious dilemmas for Turkey’s leadership. Ankara has understandably opposed the idea of economic sanctions that would harm Turkish economic interests and, it argues, are unlikely to change Iranian behavior (they may well be right about this). A negotiated solution, perhaps with a Turkish role in nuclear storage and enrichment arrangements, would certainly be the best outcome for Ankara. But the prospects for a solution of this kind are not good, and Ankara may now confront some very uncomfortable decisions. The government’s choices can have far reaching implications.

If Turkey votes “no” or opts to abstain in a Security Coun¬cil vote, it will bolster unnecessarily the view of those who argue that Ankara is drifting toward closer alignment with Middle Eastern and Eurasian partners. It will fuel the sterile debate about “losing Turkey” and complicate Turkish-West¬ern relations across the board. Far more importantly, the absence of consensus with Turkey may actually hasten the use of force to deal with the problem—the worst develop¬ment from the perspective of Turkish interests. In Wash¬ington, the looming Iran sanctions question is emerging as the leading test for U.S.-Turkish relations under the Obama administration. The challenge of a nuclear Iran is one of the inescapable foreign policy issues facing an administra¬tion hard pressed on several fronts. Iran policy can reinforce or seriously erode the bilateral goodwill established over the past year. If Turkey cannot support a sanctions package in the Security Council—and this may turn critically on what the package contains—then at least it should be seen to take much tougher messages to Tehran on the nuclear question.

Western observers are increasingly concerned that Turkish-Iranian discussions do not have this quality. Turkish public, and even elite opinion may encourage Turkey’s leaders to talk about the desirability of a nuclear free Middle East, and to favor arguments about the equivalence of Israeli and Iranian nuclear weapons. In terms of Turkey’s own strategic interests, there is no equivalence at all. A nuclear Iran will spell trouble for Turkish security and undermine Turkey’s political objectives across multiple regions.
The whole briefing, which gives a good overview of Turkey's nuclear policy past and present and which is well worth reading, can be found here(pdf).

Previous posts about Turkey's nuclear iran dilemma can be found here.

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