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Turkey Offers U.S. A Diplomatic Channel To Iran

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Turkey Offers U.S. A Diplomatic Channel To Iran

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Turkey Offers U.S. A Diplomatic Channel To Iran

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

Both the U.S. and European Union announced new measures this week to tighten the financial noose around Iran in an effort to curb its nuclear ambitions. U.S. and E.U. officials say they expect everyone to enforce recently passed United Nations sanctions, even the two countries that voted against the resolution - Brazil and Turkey.

But while the U.S. is firmly committed to sanctions, Turkey is working behind the scenes to keep diplomatic options alive, and the Obama administration is encouraging it.

NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN: An adviser to Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan says his country had good reason to vote against the U.N. sanctions. Turkey doesn't believe sanctions will work and the foreign policy adviser, Ibrahim Kalin, says Turkey wants to keep open a diplomatic channel to Tehran.

Dr. IBRAHIM KALIN (Chief Foreign Policy Adviser to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan): We don't disagree with our American and European friends on the ultimate goal of this process, and that is to prevent Iran from having a nuclear bomb. The goal is the same. We don't disagree in substance. We disagree in style.

KELEMEN: Kalin was with a group of lawmakers from Erdogan's party that had a tough job this week trying to ease some of the concerns Americans have about where Turkey is heading. Republicans and Democrats alike are furious about Turkey's verbal attacks on Israel over Gaza and about its no vote on U.N. sanctions against Iran.

Senator John McCain of Arizona says Turkey's embrace of Iran won't help regional peace, and he warns Erdogan not to lose sight of Turkey's legacy as a secular nation.

Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona): The rhetoric that he is using concerning Israel, an obvious thumb in the eye that Turkey and Brazil orchestrated with this feckless agreement on enriched material, is an indication that Turkey continues at a crossroad.

KELEMEN: What McCain called a feckless agreement, the Turks see as a starting point for a diplomatic way out of the dispute over Iran's suspect nuclear program.

Ibrahim Kalin says Turkey wants to see Iran go ahead and ship low-enriched uranium to Turkey in return for fuel for a Tehran research reactor. He says the Iranians are still interested in the deal.

Dr. KALIN: In this political, psychological environment, they can easily say we are out of this deal, but we are encouraging the Iranians to stay on the negotiation table. And this is the message we are getting from the U.S. administration also. That's why Secretary Clinton said, you know, a few hours after the sanctions that Turkey and Brazil shall continue diplomatic engagement with Iran.

KELEMEN: The U.S., Russia and France did formerly respond to the deal that Turkey and Brazil negotiated. They said there are some problems with it, even though they had initially proposed a similar fuel swap last October.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley says the Tehran research reactor deal, or TRR, now needs to be adjusted.

Assistant Secretary PHILIP J. CROWLEY (U.S. Department of State): Iran, over the time that it refused to engage the international community, in essence doubled its enriched uranium supply. That has degraded the value of the TRR.

KELEMEN: Crowley says if the fuel swap deal is improved, that could be a step toward the broader discussions that the U.S. and its partners are seeking to get Iran to clear up questions about its nuclear program. And that's where Crowley sees a role for Turkey.

Asst. Sec. CROWLEY: If Turkey can convince Iran to continue to engage on these set of issues and incorporating the TRR as a means to get to these broader set of issues, then there is a constructive role that they can play. So I would say that, yes, we are encouraging Turkey to continue to tell Iran that there's an opportunity for diplomacy and dialogue, and we'll see how Iran responds.

KELEMEN: In the meantime, he says the U.S. and its European partners will vigorously enforce U.N. sanctions on Iran. Iran's Supreme National Security Council issued a statement read out at Friday prayers today, calling the sanctions illegal.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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