Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan – an influential player in the Middle East whom President Obama has courted assiduously – continued to oppose further sanctions against Iran after his Oval Office meeting Monday.
“I indicated to the Prime Minister how important it is to resolve the issue of Iran's nuclear capacity in a way that allows Iran to pursue peaceful nuclear energy but provides assurances that it will abide by international rules and norms,” President Obama said, “and I believe that Turkey can be an important player in trying to move Iran in that direction.”
But in a press conference, Erdogan said of Iran’s nuclear program, "We have specifically stated that the question can be resolved through diplomacy and diplomacy only.”
"I believe Turkey can play the role of corridor provider for positive deliberations to take place," he said, according to the Wall Street Journal, which covered the press conference.
A senior Obama administration official confirmed that Erodgan conveyed to President Obama in private that Turkey still opposes further sanctions.
“Turkey prefers to try to change the Iranian position through diplomatic discussions,” said the official. “They have reached out to the Iranians in the past and will want to continue to do so.”
The official said that “this wasn’t a question about the President asking the Turks to support sanctions now but rather to work with the Turks to continue engage Iranians so they will make the decisions necessary to avoid sanctions.” The official said it was “likely the president said something to the effect that we’ve given the Iranians every opportunity and time is running out as the president has communicated to other world leaders.”
The official added, “I don’t know what their position will be when we move into a moment of action and if they will feel we’ve given diplomacy every opportunity to work.”
Turkish leaders have fairly regular contact with Iranian officials. On Friday, December 4, Erdogan spoke with Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, in Ankara, Turkey. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu met with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad late last month.
Turkey is a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council.