Turkey and Iran / U.S.-approved Relations

The welcome for Iran's president in Istanbul today may have been warmed by yesterday's report in Haaretz that Washington is opposed to an Israeli attack on Iran and declines to supply Israel the military support it seeks.

The U.S. may retain a military option, but Washington seems more amenable than ever to the type of diplomatic initiative Turkey is poised to propose in the next two days.

Turkey, which objects to sanctions against Iran, intends to sign an agreement to develop gas fields in Iran and a gas pipeline from Iran at the cost of some $600 million. Together with India, Pakistan, China and Russia, Turkey serves as a strategic front for Iran that could foil sanctions on the Islamic republic.

Turkey, a NATO member and Israel's strategic ally, is interested in building its relations with Iran with Washington's approval and in coordination with the European Union. Turkey's policy vis-a-vis Iran has two basic principles. It supports Iran's plan to develop peaceful nuclear technology and objects to the production of nuclear weapons. This is in keeping with with the perks the United Nations Security Council members and Germany had offered Iran. Iran's response was vague and unsatisfactory.

Europe has for some time wanted to reduce its dependency on Russian oil and gas, and wants to even more after Russia's brutal assault on Georgia this week. It wants another pipeline to run from the Caspian sea to Iran and on to Europe via Turkey. Washington, too, will need Iran's blessing for any future cooperation with Iraq that would send its troops home.

Washington's timetable is pressing, hence its nonchalant attitude to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's visit to Turkey. Israel's minor mutterings, compared to its outcry over Swiss and German agreements with Tehran, illustrate that it, too, knows its vital relations with Turkey require some quiet.

Israel understands that diplomacy can be effective, especially as Turkey is also the arbitrator between Israel and Syria.

Turkey alone cannot prevent Iran's continued uranium enrichment, nor does it intend to. But it can advance an American-Iranian dialogue and Washington has given Ankara a go-ahead to do so, Turkish sources said. The U.S. is also considering opening a special interests office in Tehran.

Now Turkey is just hoping Ahmadinejad will not embarrass his hosts by repeating his threats to destroy Israel.