Iran, Afghanistan to test Turkish-U.S. ties

Thu Dec 3, 2009 1:38pm EST
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By Ibon Villelabeitia

ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan may face probing questions about whether NATO member Turkey is tilting away from the West and toward Iran when he meets U.S. President Barack Obama next week.

Erdogan, whose party has Islamist roots, visits Washington at a time when Ankara's efforts to cultivate stronger ties with Tehran have raised concerns among Western allies.

The two leaders are expected to discuss Iran's nuclear program and whether Turkey can send more troops to Afghanistan to support an increase in U.S. forces Obama announced this week.

"Iran is going to be the key test in terms of Turkish-U.S. ties," said Ian Lesser of the German Marshall Fund think-tank.

In U.S. eyes, Turkey's blossoming relations with Iran have eased Tehran's isolation when Washington is trying to pressure the Islamic republic into a deal to satisfy the West that there was no covert program to become a nuclear weapons state.

Last month, Erdogan visited Tehran to sign gas and trade deals and hosted "good friend" Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at a summit of Islamic countries in Istanbul.

The Turkish leader dismayed allies when he called sanctions imposed on Iran "arrogant" and said countries opposing its atomic work should give up their own nuclear arms.

Obama, who visited Turkey in April, has said Ankara can play a positive role in easing the dispute with Iran.   Continued...