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Erdoğan rebuffs Sarkozy over missile defense system

French President Nicolas Sarkozy received a harsh response recently from Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan when he initiated a telephone conversation in a bid to convince the Turkish prime minister to support a planned NATO missile defense system — some parts of which the US is eager to install in Turkey.

As long as Iran continues to be singled out as a threat within the planned system, its elements cannot be located in Turkey, Erdoğan told Sarkozy in firm remarks, according to a NATO official, who spoke to Today’s Zaman on Tuesday on the condition of anonymity, without elaborating exactly when the conversation took place.

Erdoğan reiterated the principles on which NATO member Turkey bases its approach to the missile shield during a meeting in Ankara on Oct. 28 with a visiting delegation from the NATO Parliamentary Assembly (NATO PA), as he also recalled his conversation with Sarkozy during the meeting.

“Possession of nuclear weapons by Iran would be most annoying for us since we are a neighboring country; we have told this to Iranian officials may times. However, Iran says that its nuclear enrichment activities are aimed at producing energy. Producing low-enriched uranium for peaceful purposes is a right for every country,” Erdoğan told members of NATO PA’s Sub-Committee on Transatlantic Defense and Security Cooperation, led by committee chairman Julio Miranda Calha.

Turkey says it is not against the establishment of a missile defense system for NATO’s European allies but insists in talks with the US that the project should be built for defensive, not offensive, purposes. Any clear reference to Iran or any other neighboring country as a threat in the proposed missile defense system runs counter to Ankara’s chief foreign policy objective: zero problems with neighbors.

“We know that there are countries within this geography that possess enriched uranium,” Erdoğan said, in an apparent reference to Israel, which is believed to be the only nuclear-armed power in the Middle East. Israel has never confirmed or denied its possession of nuclear weapons and is not signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

“I also told Sarkozy; we are not going to accept an approach that considers Iran a threat. My advice to those who want to locate the missile shield system to my own country: Let them locate it on your own territory first,” he added. Recalling that a majority of European countries are against the installation of a missile defense system on their own territories, Erdoğan said he believed that the European Union is pursuing contradictory policies regarding the missile defense system.

Last month, ahead of a NATO ministerial-level meeting that took place in Brussels last month when NATO’s secretary-general urged member states to endorse a proposed anti-missile system that would protect Europe and North America, a senior French official said Paris supports the planned missile defense system and is willing to help fund it, dispelling earlier talk that the country was skeptical.

As of Monday, during an official visit to Beijing, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu repeated that Ankara doesn’t perceive Iran as a threat. “If there is a global terrorist threat, a risk of proliferation of conventional weapons or anything related to nuclear weapons, NATO will definitely deal with these issues. Similarly, ballistic missiles are important in terms of global peace and it is an issue assessed by NATO. It would not be right to discuss this matter as if a war were about to start or as if missiles are to be stationed in Turkey,” Davutoğlu said in an interview with TRT Türk, the Turkish Radio and Television Corporation’s (TRT) news channel. “We have no threat perception from our neighbors like in the Cold War era,” he said.

‘US contradicts itself’
While trying to convince Turkey to embrace the idea of the planned missile defense system, the US administration is using the argument that this system will be protective against possible threats from Israel too, Erdoğan, meanwhile, told the NATO PA delegation, calling such argumentation as contradictory.

“Those, who try to persuade us via saying that the missile shield system will protect us from nuclear missiles possessed by Israel, are considering Iran as a threat because of its nuclear program. However, Iran doesn’t even yet possess nuclear missiles like Israel does. We don’t want it [Iran] to possess [nuclear missiles] either because any tension between Iran and Israel would mean the greatest harm for us. Nuclear weapons are a threat, no matter who owns it; they are still a threat,” Erdoğan said.

The prime minister also voiced disappointment over the lack of a strong reaction from both by the US and NATO against Israel’s deadly assault on a Gaza-bound flotilla on May 31, during which naval commandos killed nine Turkish citizens on board, despite the fact that the brutality of the attack was confirmed by the United Nations.

A report by the Fact Finding Mission of the UN Human Rights Council called the military raid on the flotilla brutal and disproportionate. The report listed a series of crimes committed by Israeli forces, including willful killing and torture, and maintained there was “clear evidence to support prosecutions.”

In September, the US cast the lone vote against the endorsement by the UN Human Rights Council report, while the seven EU member states on the body abstained.

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