WASHINGTON (CNN)–Turkey’s prime minister declined to support President Barack Obama’s push for tough new sanctions against Iran but said his country was willing to act as a mediator in the diplomatic standoff over Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey has had a strategic alliance with Iran since the 17th century and wants a diplomatic solution to end the deadlock. Erdogan spoke to CNN’s Christiane Amanpour while in Washington to attend the Obama administration’s summit on nuclear security, saying, “I believe that we can find a way out.”
“I am here for a diplomatic solution,” he said. Countries that are members of the International Atomic Energy Agency and the 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) “must all work together on this, and as (for) Turkey, we could act as a very important intermediary.”
Turkey is a rotating member of the United Nations Security Council, which has demanded that Iran halt its nuclear fuel program. Iran has refused the demand and continued to produce enriched uranium, which in high concentrations can be used to produce a nuclear bomb.
Iran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, but the United States has accused it of trying to develop a nuclear bomb.
The IAEA – the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency – reported in February that Iran has begun enriching uranium to higher levels without necessary safeguards, and the agency has said it has been unable to rule out the existence of an Iranian nuclear weapons program without further cooperation from Tehran.
While declining to endorse the idea of new sanctions against Tehran, Erdogan also said Ankara does not want to see any nuclear weapons in the Middle East. He noted that Israel, which does not recognize the NPT and is believed to have nuclear weapons, remains a member of the IAEA.
“Why do we not say the same thing to the country that does not recognize the NPT? That is also a cause for concern for me,” Erdogan said. “It is important that we try to take steps to overcome those difficulties, so that we can strengthen peace in the Middle East.”
Erdogan said he wants Israel to make a contribution to peace. But he said that was proving difficult because when Israel’s coalition government speaks, “it’s not a symphony, it’s a cacophony.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week suddenly called off plans to attend the summit, apparently in an attempt to avoid any scrutiny of his country’s nuclear policy. Though independent analysts estimate Israel has a stockpile of up to 200 nuclear warheads, Israel has never confirmed or denied whether it has the bomb.
For his part, Erdogan is trying to avoid the scrutiny of U.S. lawmakers who recently supported a resolution in the House of Representatives that recognized the Armenian Genocide. After the resolution was passed, Turkey temporarily withdrew its ambassador from Washington.
Erdogan said Turkey cannot accept that the killings were genocide, and he was confident Obama will not use the term either. “That would be my expectation, because to this day, no American leader has uttered that word, and I believe that President Obama will not,” he said.
Erdogan said the time when the killings took place was a period of war and revolts, and pointed out that the Turkish people also suffered terrible losses during the 1914-18 conflict.
“No nation, no people has the right to impose the way it remembers history to another nation or people – and Turkey does not try to do that,” he added.
Erdogan was due to meet Obama on the sidelines of the nuclear summit on Tuesday.