Turkey and the Muslim Bomb

While the US is increasing pressure on Turkey to support sanctions on Iran, Ankara has spelled out its reluctance to satisfy Washington.

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has been outspoken about his rejection of the US administration's recent sanction drive on Iran.

Famous for his explosive temper, Erdogan has lashed out at Israel and the US stance on Iran's nuclear program many times. During the nuclear summit in Washington, in an interview with CNN, he declined to support the sanctions push and lost no time pointing at Israel.

He says that with a nuclear power like Israel in the region it is not 'fair' to talk about Iran's nuclear program. In earlier remarks he portrayed the allegations that Iran is trying to make a bomb, as mere 'rumours.'

In a trip to France, Erdogan sharpened his criticism of Israel by identifying it as "the principal threat to regional peace." That's not as extreme as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, who says the Jewish state should be erased from the map, but it's striking language from the leader of one of Israel's traditional allies.

During the summit Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey's foreign minister, tried to be the sensible voice of the country's foreign policy. In an event at the Council on Foreign Relations, he said that while Ankara clearly does not want to see a nuclear Iran, Turkey would suffer from economic sanctions, because of the commercial ties between two countries. He added that the only way to solve this issue is 'diplomacy, diplomacy and diplomacy.'

Davutoglu also criticized the US government for not briefing Ankara about the content of the sanctions package and added that Turkey should not be expected to set out a clear position on any UN Security Council vote before it is consulted about the details of the sanctions.

Now this may sound quite reasonable. Turkey appears to be refusing to alienate an old neighbour with which it does business. There are also long standing questions about the effectiveness of sanctions and economic embargoes in general.

On the other hand, one cannot ignore the rhetoric of Turkey's ruling party, the AKP, which increasingly criticizes the West and its policies and aligns itself more with the Muslim world. As one Turkey expert puts it 'does the AKP long for a Muslim bomb in the region?' Or is standing by Iran another way of praising Islamism?

Erdogan might see himself as a leader who will bring justice to the region by diplomacy, but he'd better be careful in case he gets a 'Muslim bomb' just next door.