Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly described the circumstances surrounding a 2010 proposal in which Iran was to give up some of its enriched uranium in exchange for nuclear fuel rods for a medical reactor. The article said that Iran initially accepted the deal but then reneged. In fact, Iran rejected an early iteration of the proposal; a later version was rejected as inadequate by the United States and its allies. This version has been corrected.
Turkey’s top diplomat said Friday that Iran is ready to negotiate an end to the standoff with Western powers over its nuclear program, suggesting that the controversy could be resolved quickly if the deep distrust between the two sides could be overcome.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu also criticized economic sanctions against Iran as ineffective and warned that any military strike against the country’s nuclear facilities would inflame the region while doing little to curb Iran’s ambitions. Israeli and U.S. officials have not ruled out military options to impede Iran’s progress.
“I am telling you, a military strike is a disaster,” Davutoglu told a gathering at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank. “It should not be an option.”
Davutoglu, in Washington to consult with the Obama administration on the Syrian and Iranian crises, said he perceived a new willingness among Iran’s leaders to cut a deal on limits to its nuclear program. Talks between Iran and the “P5-plus-1” powers — the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany — have been frozen for more than a year.
Turkey has sought to play a mediating role in the dispute, and two years ago it sought to help broker a deal in which Iran would give up nearly all of its stockpile of enriched uranium in return for fuel rods for its medical research reactor. Iran rejected an early iteration of the proposal; a later version was rejected as inadequate by the United States and its allies.
“The deal is clear. It could be resolved in a few days,” Davutoglu said Friday. The problem, he said, was “mutual distrust,” including deep suspicions on the Western side that Iran may make a pretense of negotiating merely to buy more time for its nuclear scientists.
Both sides are responsible for the toxic atmosphere, said the Turkish diplomat. He said economic sanctions imposed by Western countries in the past two years have caused economic pain without slowing Iran’s production of enriched uranium.
“What happened? Iran produced more,” he said.
Several Iranian officials, including President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, have said publicly that Iran is ready to resume negotiations on its nuclear program. Yet, there has been no formal request for talks from Iran. Catherine Ashton, foreign affairs chief for the European Union, sent a letter to Iranian leaders in October expressing a willingness to re-engage if Iran would agree to negotiate without preconditions. As of late Friday, Iranian officials had not replied to the letter.
During a separate briefing with journalists earlier Friday, Davutoglu said Turkey stood to suffer from new U.S. sanctions that would penalize foreign countries and companies that conduct business with the Central Bank of Iran, the financial institution that handles most of the country’s foreign transactions. Turkey is requesting a waiver from the U.S. sanctions, which are due to take effect in early summer.
He said Turkey’s energy needs are almost totally dependent on imported natural gas, which comes primarily from Iran and Russia. It’s why Turkey’s capital of Ankara is eager to see an end to the standoff with Iran, Davutoglu said.
“If there’s a deal tomorrow, Turkey will be relieved,” he said.