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EU Mideast envoy: Turkey in our camp over nuclear row

17 February 2010 [15:16] - TODAY.AZ
The European Union's Middle East representative says, 'If there is a sort of domino effect of countries acquiring nuclear weapons or other nonconventional armaments, yes it will encourage others to think the same. I don't point out Turkey especially. I think it will be the concern of everybody'.

The European Union said it has no doubts about whose camp Turkey is in when it comes to Iran’s nuclear proliferation threat and warned that nuclear armament spreading in the region is a concern for all, including Ankara.

“Our vision is clear. Stopping proliferation of weapons of mass destruction is a principle that should be shared by all, and Turkey is a NATO ally. I see them more on our side than on the side of proliferation,” Marc Otte, the EU special representative for the Middle East, told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review in an interview Tuesday.

The EU representative’s remarks came the same day Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu tried to advise Tehran to reduce tension over the latter’s disputed nuclear program in the wake of intense diplomatic traffic with European and American officials.

“I think Turkey has been acting responsibly over the years. Turkey is a member of NATO and therefore benefits from the nuclear umbrella of NATO if it would be threatened or attacked,” said Otte.

“I share a more general concern that if there is a sort of domino effect of countries acquiring nuclear weapons or other nonconventional armaments, yes it will encourage others to think the same. I don’t point out Turkey especially. I think it will be the concern of everybody,” he said.

The EU official held talks in Ankara with foreign policy advisors of the president and the prime minister as well as officials from Parliament’s Foreign Relations Committee.

Turkey says every country has the right to acquire a peaceful nuclear program but opposes any nuclear armament in the region that could lead to a dangerous arms race. However, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s frequent assurances that Iran is solely interested in a peaceful energy program and his criticism of EU silence over Israel’s nuclear program has sparked concerns and led some to question Turkey’s direction in terms of embracing Islamist regimes or turning its back on the West.

“There have been instances of nonconventional weapons used in this region against Kurdish populations, against Iran by Iraq. Every proliferation of nonconventional weapons is dangerous,” said the EU envoy. “Our position is that we must try for a nuclear-free Middle East. You have to think about that in a manner that deals with the immediate threat first and then the long-term regime later.

“We are for a strong nonproliferation treaty that is applied equally by everybody, but in your neighborhood it is a very difficult principle to apply,” Otte said. “If you look further east you have Pakistan. I think it is not only the capacity but also the intent that comes. If Iran says it will destroy another country with some weapons it is developing, that is a more urgent issue than others who also have certain capacities but have not done that,” referring to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s statement to wipe Israel off the map.

The EU official also underlined there was no sign of anti-Semitism in Turkey when asked about Turkey’s worsening relations with Israel since last year’s Gaza war and the prime minister’s harsh rhetoric targeting the Israeli policy.

“First of all, I don’t believe that the government of Turkey is anti-Semitic. I don’t believe our governments or parliaments, when they criticize the behavior of Israel, are anti-Semitic. It is a weapon that is used a bit too easily by Israelis,” said Otte.  

“There is anti-Semitism in Europe. I recognize it, but I often say to my Israeli interlocutor, when we criticize you for what you do, it is legitimate. We don’t criticize you for what you are, we criticize you for what you do. Modestly, I don’t want to appear like an expert in Turkish affairs, but I think when your prime minister expressed outrage for what happened in Gaza, it was the same outrage that was expressed by Europeans.”

While commenting on the Turkish role in the possible resumption of peace negotiations between Israel and Syria, Otte said, “It is up to the players to decide, but we in the EU certainly wish Turkey to remain positively engaged, and we recognize your responsibilities, and we recognize your efforts.”

He said, however, there was disappointment over the current course of Turkish-Israeli relations. “I think it is a great pity there has been these tensions because both countries need each other, and I think there is a recognition in Israel that Turkey remains a strategic partner for many reasons.”

Another question asked about the division among Palestinians, namely between Hamas and al-Fatah. Given examples of Hezbollah in Lebanon and the most recent outreach to Taliban in Afghanistan, the official said: “If you ask me the question if eventually Hamas has to be driven toward the political process, yes absolutely. The question is under which conditions. We are not at all against it, but it is clear, when you want to be part of a political process, then you are part of a political process and not part of a military process. You have to choose.”

On the Turkish approach toward Hamas, Otte said: “Turkey has a specific angle on that. Your government, the majority of Parliament, has maybe a more natural inclination to feel closer to these people although I don’t want to bring the comparison too far.”

/Hurriyet Daily News/

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