Turkey, a United States ally that relies on Iranian oil and gas imports, signaled Thursday it will not comply with American sanctions against Iran regarding its nuclear program.
Turkey indicated that it will only enforce sanctions that have been approved by the United Nations; the announcement is a setback for U.S. sanctions aimed at halting what Western governments say is Iran's effort to develop nuclear weapons.
Those penalties, targeting Iran's oil industry, would bar financial institutions from the U.S. market if they do business with Iran's central bank.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner on Thursday secured the support of Japan, which pledged to buy less Iranian oil a day after China reacted coolly to the U.S. effort.
Japan imports about 10 percent of its oil from Iran, while Turkey imports about 30 percent from Iran.
"Turkey does not feel it is bound by any sanctions taken unilaterally or as a group, other than those imposed by the United Nations," Turkish Foreign Ministry Spokesman Selçuk Ünal told a news conference, which followed a meeting between Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and Iran's parliamentary speaker, Ali Larijani.
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, who visited Turkey earlier this week, said the United States and Turkey share a broad strategic concern about the possibility of Iran developing a nuclear weapon.
"I think both of our countries agree strongly that this would be a very dangerous and destabilizing development for the entire region," Burns told Turkey's state-run Anatolia news agency. "While it is true we sometimes differ over tactics, I think we share that strategic concern, which is very important."
Ankara has agreed to host NATO's early warning radar as part of NATO's missile defense system, which is capable of countering ballistic missile threats from Iran. Turkey insists the shield doesn't target a specific country, but Tehran says the radar is meant to protect Israel from Iranian missile attacks if a war breaks out with the United States and/or Israel.
The Jewish state, which views Tehran as a threat, has warned of a possible strike on Iran's nuclear program. Iran, which insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, has threatened to respond to sanctions by shutting the Strait of Hormuz, a transit route for a fifth of the world's oil.
China has criticized U.S. sanctions against Iran, approved by President Barack Obama on New Year's Eve, as improper and ineffective. Beijing supported UN sanctions on Iran's nuclear program, but says such action should be multilateral. China, the world's biggest energy consumer, depends on Iran for 11 percent of its oil imports.
Turkey said it would evaluate the content of the U.S. sanctions, but Turkey's biggest crude oil importer, Tüpraş, already has renewed a contract to continue to import crude oil from Iran in 2012.
"Right now, our import is continuing and as of today there is no change to our plans," Energy Minister Taner Yıldız said on Thursday.
Larijani, after meeting his Turkish counterpart Cemil Çiçek, said there were vast opportunities to increase bilateral cooperation in several fields, including natural gas and oil, to increase the bilateral trade volume of $15 billion (11.7 billion euros).
"There are those who want to trouble the relations between the two countries," said Çiçek without elaborating. "We should not allow them."
Davutoğlu, who visited Tehran last week, said Turkey is ready to host further talks with world powers and Iran over its nuclear program.
Iran's Larijani Discusses Nuclear Issue with Turkey
Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani was holding talks with Turkish leaders Thursday on Tehran's controversial nuclear program amid an international standoff between Tehran and world powers.
Larijani, a former nuclear negotiator, met with Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu during a breakfast and Parliament Speaker Cemil Cicek, but no statement was made to the press.
"We favor a settlement to the nuclear dispute through diplomatic means," Foreign Ministry Spokesman Selcuk Unal said in a weekly press conference.
The United States has ratcheted up pressure on Iran and is spearheading a campaign to squeeze its oil exports over its nuclear program, which the West believes masks a drive to develop atomic weapons. Iran insists the nuclear drive is exclusively for peaceful purposes.
The European Union is expected to announce further sanctions of its own, including an oil embargo at the end of this month while Japan said Thursday it was reducing its imports of Iranian oil.
Turkey has repeatedly said it is only bound by sanctions decided by the United Nations Security Council. Iran provided about 40 percent of Turkey's oil needs in 2011. And its biggest refiner, Tupras, recently made a deal to purchase nine million tons of crude oil from Tehran, media reports said.
"We are not bound by any decision except for the UN decisions," Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said on Thursday. "Tupras is continuing its imports and, as of today, there has been no change on our roadmap," regarding imports from Tehran.
Larijani was due to meet President Abdullah Gul and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan later in the day. The talks over Iran's nuclear program are expected to intensify in the coming days as Iran's Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi will visit Turkey on January 19, according to diplomatic sources.
Last week, when Davutoğlu was in Tehran, his Iranian counterpart Salehi said he would like to see a resumption of the nuclear talks with world powers last held in Istanbul a year ago. Unal said no date or venue has been agreed yet for the start of the talks.
"If a demand or a request is conveyed to us in order to host (nuclear talks), we will consider it favorably," he said. "What's important is to give a chance for diplomacy and to solve this problem through diplomatic means before the tensions escalate."
Attack on Arab Observers in Syria Raises Concerns, Turkey Says
Attacks on Arab observers in Syria are raising doubts about the sustainability of the Arab League mission there, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said.
"The Arab League observers could not perform their duties as desired. They met many obstacles," Davutoğlu said at a press conference in Ankara Tuesday with his Tunisian counterpart, Rafik Abdessalem. "The attack in Latakia raised doubts about the sustainability of the mission."
Davutoğlu was referring to an incident in which two Kuwaiti members of the Arab League team were injured in an attack on Monday by what the Gulf state said were unidentified protesters.
"We will go on supporting this mission of the Arab League," the Turkish minister said. "It is unacceptable that the bloodshed continues while the mission is still there."
The Arab League monitors have been in Syria since December 26 to oversee a deal to protect civilians in the country, where the regime has waged a bloody crackdown on opposition protesters since mid-March.
The death toll in Syria, which the United Nations says exceeds 5,000, has kept on climbing despite the presence of the observers.
15 Detained in KCK Probe as MP's House Searched
Police detained 15 people and searched the house of independent deputy Leyla Zana as part of the ongoing Kurdish Communities Union, or KCK, probe, according to reports.
Raids were conducted early in the morning in a number of provinces, including Istanbul, Diyarbakır, Ankara, Siirt and Adana. One of the detainees was reported to be Fatma Kurtulan, a former Van deputy for the now-closed Democratic Society Party, or DTP.
A number of buildings belonging to the DTP's successor, the Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, were also searched as part of the police raids. Operations are continuing in over 10 provinces.
The KCK is accused of being the urban wing of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, which is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.
Basbug Arrest Reveals Crack in Ruling Party
A simmering political debate between parties and within the ruling party is likely to create more tension in the capital as former top soldier İlker Başbuğ's lawyers demanded Thursday that their client be tried by the Supreme Council.
The first fault line amid the tension is no doubt the arrest of Başbuğ, who had been very close to Justice and Development Party, or AKP, governments since the mid-2000s. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan openly said he wanted to see Başbuğ tried without arrest while President Abdullah Gül found Başbuğ's demand to be tried by the Supreme Council correct.
However, the views of both leading figures were opposed by groups known to be close to the influential Fethullah Gülen religious community. For many, AKP Deputy Leader Hüseyin Çelik's statement that they believed it was more appropriate to prosecute the former commander in a special authority court was an indication of this disagreement.
In addition to this, there are rumors that a senior figure in the Supreme Council told some AKP figures that Başbuğ could not be tried by the supreme body in accordance with Article 145 of the Constitution. In this respect, the court's response to Başbuğ will be crucial in determining the next phase of this rift between the government and the Gülen community.
The Supreme Council is the name the Constitutional Court assumes when it is conducting a trial in a criminal case.
Another very important issue is the government's plans to make the criteria for arrest more difficult in a move to silence domestic and international criticism over the growing numbers of detainees and lengthy prosecution periods. Pro-Gülen media figures, however, have said the release of controversial figures that allegedly attempted to stage a coup in the past would be seen as an encouragement for them in their future anti-government activities.
In an overall assessment, the ongoing rift is seen as the third round of the political conflict between the government and the community. The first one was observed with the match-fixing bill, the second one in the bill increasing lawmakers' pensions and the third one with Başbuğ's arrest.
Turkish Foreign Army Chief Appeals Against Detention
A lawyer for the former head of Turkey's armed forces, General Ilker Başbuğ, appealed on Thursday against his detention on charges of trying to overthrow the government, the state news agency Anatolian said.
Başbuğ, military chief of staff from 2008 to 2010, was sent to a high-security prison outside Istanbul last week after a court ordered he be remanded in custody while prosecutors completed their investigation and prepared formal charges.
Başbuğ is the most senior officer to be caught up in court cases involving alleged plots against Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan's government in what some see as a major step toward democratic reform in the European Union candidate.
Military chiefs were once regarded as the most powerful men in Turkey, after decades of coups before Erdoğan's government took charge in 2002 and reduced the influence of the generals.
Başbuğ's lawyer, Ilkay Sezer, told Reuters last week his client should be tried in the Supreme Court if he is charged. He has called the charges "beyond comprehension."
The secularist military has always had a tense relationship with the ruling AKP due to the party's Islamist roots, although the party shuns the Islamist label and describes itself as socially conservative.
President Abdullah Gül, a former AKP prime minister and foreign minister, said that Turkey's highest court should try Basbug.
"My personal opinion is that Supreme Court (should hear the case)," Gül told reporters on Thursday. "But at the end of the day it's a technical issue."
The case against Başbuğ, linked to an alleged ultra-nationalist network called "Ergenekon," centers on Web sites the military was running until 2008 that spread propaganda against Erdoğan's government.
Hundreds of people have been jailed in the investigation, including journalists, academics, lawyers and military officers in what is seen by some as a crackdown on secularist critics of the government.
In a report this week, the Council of Europe human rights body criticised Turkey's legal system for inadequate protection of defendants and its years-long pretrial detentions and sweeping antiterrorism laws.
Military Files Complaint against BDP Leader over 'Corporal' Remarks
The Turkish Armed Forces, or TSK, on Thursday officially filed a criminal complaint against pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, leader Selahattin Demirtaş for his statements in which he said Chief of General Staff Gen. Necdet Özel "is not even a corporal" in his eyes.
The TSK submitted its complaint at the Sultanbeyli Prosecutor's Office in İstanbul.
Commenting on Özel's interview with a daily last week, in which the military chief said he is opposed to the use of Kurdish in public education, Demirtaş said: "Even if your rank is general, you are a corporal in our [the BDP's] eyes. Your value is just that. It does not matter for us either it is a general or a corporal speaking. You have no value in our eyes."
Turkey to Cut Long Detention Periods
Turkey's Islamist-rooted government will soon present proposed judicial reforms before Parliament to cut long detention periods that have been widely criticized, the Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin said Thursday.
"We will submit a bill to Parliament within one week at the latest to address concerns" about prolonged detention, Ergin told the Hurriyet Daily News. He said most cases against Turkey at the European Court of Human Rights concerned lengthy detention, adding that the new package aimed to reduce trial periods to an average of a year.
Dozens of serving and retired military officers, academics, journalists and lawyers have been detained in recent years, awaiting trial or verdict, in probes into alleged plots against the government.
Some of the suspects have been in jail since 2008, without conviction, causing widespread outrage.
Hundreds of Kurdish activists with alleged links to the rebel Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, also face lengthy trial process. Forty-two percent of 130,000 prisoners are waiting for their trials to be concluded, according to the statistics from Turkish Human Rights Association.
Russia Cautions West on Syria Intervention
Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev said a military intervention in Syria, led by NATO members, is possible in the near future and "the main strike forces will be neighboring Turkey."
Iran is the main target because of its ties with Syria, he said, adding that Turkey and the United States are both working to create a no-fly zone in Syria.
"There is information that NATO members and some Arab states of the Persian Gulf, acting in line with the scenario seen in Libya, intend to turn the current interference with Syrian affairs into a direct military intervention," Patrushev, a former head of the main successor to the Soviet-era KGB, said in an interview published on the Web site of the daily Kommersant Thursday.
"The main strike forces will be supplied not by France, Britain and Italy, but possibly by neighboring Turkey [in this instance]," the Russian official said, adding that the U.S. and Turkey are planning to create a no-fly zone in Syria in order to secure a base for Syrian rebels. Patrushev said Turkey, which had excellent relations with Syria not that long ago, is vying for influence in the region with Iran, the Voice of Russia Web site reported.
Military escalation is also likely in Iran, with "real danger" of a U.S. strike, Patrushev said, adding that the current tension over Syria was linked to the Iran issue.
"They want to punish Damascus not so much for the repression of the opposition, but rather for its refusal to break off relations with Tehran," he said."There is a likelihood of military escalation of the conflict, and Israel is pushing the Americans toward it. There is a real danger of a U.S. military strike on Iran."
Tehran could respond by blocking the Strait of Hormuz between Oman and Iran, through which 35 percent of the world's seaborne traded oil passes, Patrushev said.
Turkish Foreign Ministry Spokesman Selçuk Ünal dismissed as "speculation" remarks by a senior Russian security official that Turkey would supply the main striking forces in a possible military intervention in Syria.
"I don't want to comment on scenarios or remarks, which I have not seen yet. There are many circles creating scenarios. But our attitude on Syria is clear: We want bloodshed to be halted immediately," he said.
Turkey wanted the Syrian administration to reply to Syrian people's legitimate demands, he said.
"Issues other than this are speculations. But, we already have declared that Turkey was always ready to every sort of developments."
A Russian ship carrying tons of arms arrived at a Syrian port Thursday morning after making an unscheduled stop in Greek Cyprus, a Turkish foreign ministry official said. The cargo ship, named "Chariot," and owned by St. Petersburg-based Westberg Ltd., was technically violating an EU embargo on such shipments.
The Chariot dropped anchor off southern Greek Cypriot port, Limassol, on Jan. 10 because of high seas, drawing the attention of Greek Cypriot officials, according to government spokesman Stefanos Stefanou. Customs officials boarded the ship to examine its cargo, but could not open and inspect the four containers because of "the confined space" they were stored in, the Greek Cypriot Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Stefanou told state radio earlier Thursday it was decided the vessel would be released after the ship agreed to change its destination and "not go to Syria," in keeping with "all international regulations."
The Chariot was reportedly carrying between 35 and 60 tons of munitions and explosives bound for the port of Latakia in Syria.
Iran Denies Trucks Held in Turkey Taking Arms to Syria
The Iranian embassy in Ankara denied on Thursday that four trucks being held by Turkish customs were carrying military equipment from Iran to Syria, while a spokesman for Turkey's foreign ministry said an investigation was still in progress.
The trucks were confiscated on Tuesday in Turkey's southeast province of Kilis at the Öncüpınar border crossing into Syria.
"These trucks have been subject to control regarding the goods they carry, and the investigation continues," Foreign Ministry spokesman Selçuk Ünal said.
The Iranian embassy's statement coincided with a visit to Ankara by Iran's parliament speaker, Ali Larijani, for talks with Turkey's leaders.