Erdogan Rebuffs Sarkozy Over Missile Defense System

ANKARA (Today’s Zaman)–Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan reportedly told French President Nicolas Sarkozy in a recent telephone conversation that Turkey will maintain its opposition to a NATO missile shield on its territory if Iran continues to be characterized as a threat within the planned system.

Erdogan’s remarks, according to an anonymous NATO official were ‘firm’ and ‘harsh.’ He, however, did not elaborate exactly when the conversation took place.

The Turkish premier reiterated the principles on which NATO member Turkey bases its approach to the missile shield during a meeting in Ankara on October 28 with a visiting delegation from the NATO Parliamentary Assembly.

According to Today’s Zaman, Erdogan recalled those points during his conversation with Sarkozy.

“Possession of nuclear weapons by Iran would be most annoying for us since we are a neighboring country; we have told this to Iranian officials may times. However, Iran says that its nuclear enrichment activities are aimed at producing energy. Producing low-enriched uranium for peaceful purposes is a right for every country,” Erdogan told members of NATO PA’s Sub-Committee on Transatlantic Defense and Security Cooperation, led by committee chairman Julio Miranda Calha.

Turkey says it is not against the establishment of a missile defense system for NATO’s European allies but insists in talks with the US that the project should be built for defensive, not offensive, purposes. Any clear reference to Iran or any other neighboring country as a threat in the proposed missile defense system runs counter to Ankara’s chief foreign policy objective of “zero problems with neighbors.”

“We know that there are countries within this geography that possess enriched uranium,” Erdogan said, in an apparent reference to Israel, which is believed to be the only nuclear-armed power in the Middle East. Israel has never confirmed or denied its possession of nuclear weapons and is not signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

“I also told Sarkozy; we are not going to accept an approach that considers Iran a threat,” Erdogan said. “My advice to those who want to locate the missile shield system in my own country: Let them locate it on their own territory first.”

A majority of European countries are against the installation of a missile defense system on their own territories, Erdogan said, adding that he believed the European Union is pursuing contradictory policies regarding the missile defense system.

As of Monday, during an official visit to Beijing, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu repeated that Ankara doesn’t perceive Iran as a threat. “If there is a global terrorist threat, a risk of proliferation of conventional weapons or anything related to nuclear weapons, NATO will definitely deal with these issues,” he said. “Similarly, ballistic missiles are important in terms of global peace and it is an issue assessed by NATO. It would not be right to discuss this matter as if a war were about to start or as if missiles are to be stationed in Turkey.”

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