Turkey PM to visit Iran, urges caution on sanctions

NEW YORK Sun Sep 27, 2009 8:41am IST

Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan addresses the 64th United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York, September 24, 2009.     REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine

Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan addresses the 64th United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York, September 24, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Ray Stubblebine

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday he would discuss Iran's controversial nuclear program with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran next month, but urged caution over new sanctions.

He said any attempt to impose sanctions on Tehran's gas industry -- Iran has the world's second largest natural gas reserves -- would be especially problematic for its neighbor Turkey.

Erdogan was speaking to reporters after Western leaders on Friday accused Iran of hiding a nuclear plant it is building southwest of Tehran. U.S. President Barack Obama warned Iran it would face "sanctions that bite" if it did not come clean.

"By the end of next month I will be visiting Iran and I will talk about this (the Iranian nuclear program)," Erdogan said through an interpreter.

He added that Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was expected to visit Iran on Oct. 1 -- the same day an Iranian delegation meets the five permanent U.N. Security Council members and Germany for talks on its nuclear program in Geneva.

Erdogan sounded a skeptical note on sanctions, saying they "won't bring about anything good for the people (of Iran). So I think we have to be careful."

Asked if Turkey would support fresh U.N. Security Council action against Iran, Erdogan said: "Without seeing what would be in the resolution, it's difficult to say. We would look at the text and we would make our contribution and then we would make a decision."

Turkey is currently a member of the 15-nation Security Council, which has already passed three rounds of sanctions on Iranian firms and individuals designed to induce Tehran to halt uranium enrichment aimed at producing nuclear fuel.

Erdogan said Turkey had told Iran it must be "transparent" with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the U.N. nuclear watchdog.

ERDOGAN

Ahmadinejad, who like Erdogan visited New York this week to attend the U.N. General Assembly, said on Friday his country's newly disclosed nuclear fuel facility was legal and open for inspection by the IAEA.

Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful generation of electric power. The United States and other Western countries suspect it is aimed at producing nuclear weapons.

Erdogan also touched on the subject of the Nabucco gas pipeline project. He reiterated that he would like Iranian gas to flow through the pipeline.

Sanctioning Iranian natural gas would mean that "Nabucco will come to a dead end," he said.

European Union countries and Turkey signed a transit deal earlier this year for the Nabucco gas pipeline, aimed at cutting Europe's energy dependence on Russia by supplying gas from the Caspian Sea and Middle East.

No concrete supply deals have yet been signed for Nabucco, which plans to pump 31 billion cubic meters of natural gas to Europe by 2014.

"When it comes to natural gas, it's of crucial importance to our country," he said. "Our exports are quite significant."

He added that Iranian tourism in Turkey was significant and made clear that Turkey would not like to see it curtailed. Overall, he said Turkey's trade with Iran amounted to some $10 billion annually, $2 billion of Turkish exports to Iran and $8 billion in imports from the Islamic Republic.

"We have to take into consideration our national interest before taking certain decisions," Erdogan said.

(Writing by Patrick Worsnip; Editing by Sandra Maler)

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