Three Reasons Why Turkey Is Backing Iran's Nuclear Program

Photo: Ap/Ibrahim Usta/Pool

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has reiterated his country’s unwavering support for Iran’s nuclear ambitions in a meeting with its President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the official Iranian News Agency IRNA reports.Erdogan has also criticised the threats being directed against Iran, saying: “Military threats against a country that seeks to master peaceful nuclear technology are not acceptable,” according to AFP.

Likewise¬†Ahmadinejad played up the “Iran and Turkey against the West” scenario, saying: “The arrogant powers never want countries like Iran and Turkey to progress and become powers on the global stage. Thus, we have to be vigilant in the face of their plots,” Press TV reports.

This, despite Ankara being a NATO member that has agreed to deploy parts of an anti-missile shield that could be used against Iran. Turkey has also criticised Iran’s stance on Syria.

So why the bond over nuclear power?


Turkey buys 18 per cent of its natural gas and 22 per cent of its oil from Iran, according to Euronews. And while Ankara is trying to reduce what it sees as over-dependence on Tehran for energy by looking elsewhere, it’s not a situation that will change anytime soon. Erdogan is already grappling with rising crude prices and the resulting ire of citizens. Angering Iran could make things worse.

“We are not like Italy or Greece who only get two per cent of their oil needs from Iran. It is easy for them or France to give up Iranian oil. But it is different for us, and they have to understand that,” Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said. Like India, Turkey has said it will observe only UN-mandated restrictions on Iran.

Bilateral Trade

Trade between the two states has reached $16 billion dollars over the last 10 years, Reuters reports. The goal is $35 billion by 2015.

According to the Turkish Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges (TOBB), the most number of foreign-funded companies in the country in 2011 were Iranian: 590, an increase of 41 per cent compared to the previous year. For Iran, Turkey is one of the few outlets for its companies to circumvent the sanctions, but if Turkey acts too aggressively, Iran could still pull out investment.

Foreign Policy/Threats

Turkey has always adopted a “zero problems” approach to foreign policy, as it attempts to balance its aspirations in the Middle East and its friendship with the West. Supporting some of Iran’s policies, while criticising others, could be a part of this approach.

But in the case of Syria, Turkey has been more vocal, urging Syrian President Assad to step down and allowing opposition groups to meet in Istanbul, Reuters reports. Two months ago, Iran accused Turkey of having designs on a post-Assad Syria, and warned it to stay out of Damascus’ internal affairs, according to Foreign Policy Journal.

Iran went so far as to threaten retaliation if Turkey’s air bases were used by U.S. forces against Assad, saying that in such a situation, U.S. and NATO bases in Turkey could become targets of Iranian missiles. If Turkey believes this threat is credible, Erdogan’s statement could be a way to pacify Ahmadinejad.

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