ISTANBUL – Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has taken on a daunting challenge. After participating in the nuclear-security summit in South Korea at the end of March, he went to Tehran to urge Iran’s leaders to make a deal during the next round of nuclear talks between Iran and the United Nations Security Council’s five permanent members (Britain, China, France, Russia, and the United States) plus Germany. And Erdoğan will host those talks in Istanbul in mid-April.
Erdoğan last traveled to Tehran in May 2010 to finalize an agreement that he had negotiated under which Iran was to send large quantities of its low-enriched uranium to Turkey in exchange for nuclear fuel for Iran’s research reactor. The deal, mediated by Turkey and Brazil, was presented to the rest of the world as a groundbreaking confidence-building initiative.
But the US and its allies quickly rejected the agreement as an Iranian ploy designed to halt the growing momentum for additional sanctions. Turkey’s insistence on pressing ahead with the deal caused tension with the US and fueled criticism at home and abroad that Erdoğan’s government was shifting away from its long-standing alliance with the West.
The memory of this short-lived crisis with the US is still fresh in Turkish government circles. So why, despite having burned his fingers two years ago, is Erdoğan taking up the issue again? What did he hope to accomplish in Tehran?