LIANE HANSEN, host:
The Obama administration is facing criticism in the Middle East for its muted response to the Israeli raid on a Gaza aid flotilla. Some analysts say that could further complicate the United States' effort to forge a united front against Iran's suspect nuclear program.
And as NPR's Michele Kelemen reports, administration officials say Iran is an urging issue that the U.N. Security Council needs to deal with soon.
MICHELE KELEMEN: Trying to predict when the U.N. Security Council might adopt a resolution is risky business that most diplomats tend to avoid. But President Obama did say he wants the council to step up pressure on Iran this spring. And as State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley points out, there's little time left.
Mr. P.J. CROWLEY (Spokesman, Department of State): We continue to work very hard on this and we expect to meet the president's objective of concluding this by the end of spring, which I guess is June 21st.
KELEMEN: Diplomats are still finalizing some of the precise sanctions. One Western diplomat said the Israeli action against the aid flotilla to Gaza hasn't helped. It didn't derail the sanctions effort, he said privately, but it did delay it.
One key player in this is Turkey, which is currently on the Security Council, though with no veto power. It opposes sanctions on Iran. The crisis in Israeli-Turkish relations over the flotilla incident just adds a new layer of complexity, according to Henri Barkey of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Mr. HENRI BARKEY (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace): What the flotilla incident does is in many ways isolates the United States in the region because of its alliance with Israel. And the Turks are pushing very hard to essentially choose between Turkey and Israel. And of course, they want the Americans to choose Turkey. But in the process, the dialogue has become very acrimonious and it makes negotiations over Iran all the more difficult.
KELEMEN: Barkey and other analysts were also perplexed by the Obama administration's handling of Turkey's foray into diplomacy on Iran. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told reporters in Washington recently that his country and Brazil felt they had President Obama's support when they persuaded Iran to ship some of its low-enriched uranium abroad as a confidence-building step.
Mr. AHMET DAVUTOGLU (Foreign Minister, Turkey): We were encouraged to continue this process. We didn't act on our own.
KELEMEN: But a day after Turkey and Brazil sealed the deal, the U.S. and its partners announced agreement on a draft resolution for more U.N. sanctions on Iran. They argued that the fuel swap deal was no longer enough because it would leave too much low-enriched uranium in Iran and didn't address the fact that Iran is continuing to enrich uranium to higher levels.
The Turkish foreign minister argues that going down the sanctions path is unpredictable, while the deal he helped negotiate at least holds the promise of some diplomatic way out.
Mr. DAVUTOGLU: To resolve any dispute on these issues, we have to use diplomacy. Diplomacy, diplomacy, diplomacy, more and more diplomacy.
KELEMEN: He said the Iranians met their first test, sending a letter to the International Atomic Energy Agency, and the U.S. and its partner should sit down with Iran to discuss it.
Steven Cook of the Council on Foreign Relations says the U.S. and Turkey agree on the goal to keep Iran from becoming a nuclear weapons state but they have very different views on how to do that.
Mr. STEVEN COOK (Council on Foreign Relations): The Obama administration wants to move towards coercive diplomacy. The Turks see that as counterproductive.
KELEMEN: And he adds that the U.S. has a real problem now because of the crisis in Turkish-Israeli relations over Gaza.
Mr. COOK: The Turks have been able to leverage a considerable soft power and economic power to influence public opinion in the Middle East.
KELEMEN: President Obama called Turkey's prime minister this past week, and the White House said he underscored the need to find better ways to provide humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza without undermining Israel's security. Balancing two allies - Turkey and Israel - will be tricky for the U.S., analysts say, but also key for advancing U.S. interests in the region.
Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.
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