Thursday, August 14, 2008

Iranian president in Turkey for nuclear talks

Iranian president in Turkey for nuclear talks

ISTANBUL (AFP) - Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad began talks here Thursday on closer ties with Turkey and Tehran's controversial nuclear programme on his first ever bilateral visit to a NATO-member country.Heavy security measures were in place for Ahmadinejad's arrival to Istanbul, Turkey's biggest city, with snipers placed on rooftops around the Ataturk airport and police closing off the road leading into the city.

Shortly after his arrival, the Iranian president went into a closed-door meeting with his Turkish counterpart Abdullah Gul after which the two leaders were expected to hold a news conference.

He will meet Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and address a businessmen's meeting on Friday before leaving.

Ahmadinejad's two-day visit comes amid mounting tension over the Islamic Republic's nuclear drive which the West suspects is a cover for a secret nuclear weapons programme.

Iran is refusing to halt its uranium enrichment activities even though it is facing a fresh round of sanctions after failing to give a clear response to an incentives package offered by six world powers.

It has however agreed to continue talks with the European Union aimed at resolving the dispute.

Turkey, which has significantly improved relations with Iran in recent years, believes it can help resolve the stand-off through its close ties with both its eastern neighbour and Western powers.

Foreign Minister Ali Babacan said last month that Ankara was taking on a role "of consolidating and facilitating" the talks rather than formal mediation.

In a joint television interview with Turkey's NTV and CNN-Turk news channels on Wednesday, Ahmadinejad sounded an upbeat note on the talks with the six powers -- Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States.

"We think that the question of nuclear power is going in the right direction," he said. "The negotiations are good negotiations and that is going to continue."

Tehran also appreciated Ankara's "efforts to reduce the tensions and establish a constructive dialogue," he added.

Turkey, which itself is seeking to build its first nuclear power plant, says Iran has the right to possess nuclear power for peaceful purposes, but opposes nuclear weapons in the region.

Ahmadinejad's visit, however, has drawn the ire of Turkey's ally Israel which has warned Ankara against "giving legitimacy" to a leader who has called for the destruction of the Jewish state and questioned the Holocaust.

In Wednesday's interview, Ahmadinejad launched his usual attack on Israel, describing it an illegitimate state based on a lie.

"It is an illegitimate regime... The Zionist regime is based on a lie," he charged. "They (Israelis) do not belong to this region. They should go."

Non-Arab and secular Turkey has been Israel's main regional ally since 1996, when the two signed a military cooperation accord, much to the anger of Arab countries and Iran.

It is currently acting as mediator in indirect talks between Israel and its arch-foe Syria.

Turkey and Iran used to have stormy ties, clouded by Turkish accusations that Tehran was seeking to undermine Ankara's secular regime and turning a blind eye to separatist Kurdish rebels active in the region.

But the two countries have boosted security cooperation in the past decade and in 2001 Turkey began buying Iranian gas via a pipeline between the two countries, overriding US discontent.


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