2012-03-12

Iran talk could be for show, Turkish analysts say

There are too many factors against launching a military action against Iran, experts say.

By Tulin Daloglu for SES Türkiye in Ankara -- 12/03/12

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The meeting between US President Barak Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu last week has relit debate over a possible military strike against Iran's nuclear facilities. In Turkey, however, many consider these talks of war as going nowhere.

  • A Russian worker walks past the Bushehr nuclear power plant, 1,200 km south of Tehran.

    A Russian worker walks past the Bushehr nuclear power plant, 1,200 km south of Tehran. "Despite the obstacles, Iran stays on track and progresses in their nuclear programme,” Turkish Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee member and CHP Deputy Faruk Loğoğlu said. [Reuters]

"I don't think neither the US nor Israel will carry any military operation against Iran," NATO Parliamentary Assembly Turkish Group Chairman and AKP Deputy Ali Rıza Alaboyun told SES Türkiye.

Alaboyun casts doubt as to whether Iran is really up to developing a nuclear bomb.

He cites a statement by the US Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta in February at a Congressional hearing that Iran is enriching uranium in a peaceful nuclear programme, but that Tehran has not decided to develop an atomic bomb.

"Panetta's remarks point to a contradiction," Alaboyun said. "We should take into consideration what Iran claims that its programme is about. And Iran tells that theirs is for peaceful energy purposes."

Alaboyun thinks the reason the Iranian nuclear programme is dominating the discussions is for one reason. "This is the presidential election year in the US. Most of this rhetoric is for domestic consumption."

Turkish Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee member and CHP Deputy Faruk Loğoğlu agrees.

"I don't think the Obama administration has shifted its policy towards Iran [in a more aggressive direction]," he told SES Türkiye. "What's perceived as change nowadays is all about the election season. The president is not only trying to keep the Israeli lobby -- like AIPAC -- at ease, but he is also trying to dissuade Israel from acting alone."

For Israel, he said the cons are too high for such a move. "Israel destroyed the Iraqi nuclear site in 1974 with one pointed shot. In Syria, they recently carried a similar action. But Iran is different," he said.

Explaining the complexities of the wide-spread locations of the Iranian nuclear facilities, Loğoğlu does not believe that the Iranian programme can be totally destroyed.

"Iranians have a strong armed forces, navy, thousands of rockets. If they are attacked, they have the capability to strike back, and they can cause real damage -- pulling the whole region, or in fact the whole world, into chaos," he said. "The leaders may have strong rhetoric on this issue, but they can't realistically carry [out] this military option."

Loğoğlu said that Turkey is pursuing the wrong Iran policy. "Turkey is unnecessarily getting involved in attempts to mediate between the West and Iran. Despite the obstacles, Iran stays on track and progresses in their nuclear programme. They use Turkey to win time."

Alaboyun, on the other hand, said that "All Turkey wants to do is to see this issue resolved peacefully. We have not had any conflict with Iran since 1639, [the] treaty of Kasri Sirin."

In that context, he said that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan will discuss all these challenges -- including the Syrian crisis -- with his Iranian counterpart when he travels to Tehran at the end of the month.

As the P5+1 recently agreed to meet with the Iranians to continue the discussions on the nuclear issue, the Erdogan government will be expecting to see these talks take place in Istanbul. "Iran also said earlier that they want to hold these meetings here," Alaboyun said.

For Ankara Strategy Institute Assistant Professor Akif Okur, just the fact that EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton accepted talks with Iran on behalf of the six powers -- the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany -- is a sign that the diplomatic options are not completely exhausted.

"It was a strong message for [Obama] to say that it's unacceptable for Iran to have the nuclear bomb," says Okur.

"But if he were to be specific about the red lines that Iran should not cross, and what would actually constitute justification for a military strike, then we could have considered this rhetoric as sign of a serious policy change in Washington. It's now just talk for the election season."

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