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Turkish allegiances come under question over Iran sanctions

Predominantly Muslim but secular Turkey is a European Union membership candidate as well as a NATO member. But Ankara's pro-western credentials are being questioned, especially over its relations with Tehran.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, right, greets Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan

The Turkish and Iranian leaders enjoy good diplomatic relations

Turkey's strong opposition to the position of its western allies on Iranian sanctions has been raising questions over whether the Turkish government is pulling in a new direction.

Turkey and Brazil voted against a UN sanctions resolution against Iran in June, due to international concerns that its nuclear program may be used to develop weapons.

The two countries claimed that no sanctions were necessary as they were involved in brokering a nuclear-fuel swap deal, to help solve the dispute with Iran.

Turkey has also dragged its feet on declaring whether it will impose the sanctions.

A missile and an Iranian flag

The EU and US want tougher action to prevent development of weapons

Firm rejection

In addition, the European Union has been working with the United States on sanctions that will go further than those agreed at the UN.

Adopting the European and American-led sanctions could prove a step too far, Turkish diplomat Selim Yemel said. He claimed that Ankara was well within its rights to reject them.

"Well I think Turkey has to be consistent, because we voted against the sanctions at the UN," said Yemel. "First of all, we don't believe sanctions will work and they will hamper diplomatic efforts. Secondly, nobody discussed these unilateral sanctions by the US and EU with Turkey, so we don't feel obliged to abide by them."

Turning to the east?

Concerns that Turkey is turning away from the West are heightened by the fact that the ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party is rooted in Islamism. In addition, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have a good personal relationship.

Capitol Hill, Washington

Concerns are apparently mounting in Washington

Anxiety is growing in Washington, said foreign relations expert and political columnist Semih Idiz.

"Judging by the commentary coming out of Washington one must of assume this is not coming out in a vacuums. There are those who are calling Turkey a thorn in America's side," Idiz said. "And there are some doubts as to the commitments to the West and its alliance, given that its a NATO member. So the mood is not exactly positive at the moment."

Erdogan has dismissed such concern, accusing the media of finding problems where there are none. Erdogan, whose AK party is a moderate offshoot of banned Islamist group, insists that Turkey remains committed to its western allies – a sentiment echoed by diplomat Yemel.

"We have not wavered in our stance; it is always westward looking and that will not change," he said.

Author: Dorian Jones (rc)
Editor: Rob Turner

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