WASHINGTON - President Obama praised Turkey yesterday for its “outstanding’’ contributions in Afghanistan, but he was unable to persuade the Turkish prime minister to immediately support sanctions against Iran.
A US push for sanctions at the UN Security Council, where Turkey sits as a nonpermanent member, will force Ankara to choose between a NATO ally and an important neighbor.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said after a private meeting with Obama that persuading Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions should be left to diplomacy.
He said that he expressed Turkey’s willingness to mediate negotiations, but said current sanctions are ineffective because of loopholes that allow Western goods to reach Iran.
Obama said Turkey’s commitments have helped bring stability to Afghanistan. Turkey took over the rotating command of the NATO peacekeeping operation in Kabul last month and doubled its number of troops to around 1,750. However, it has resisted repeated US requests to send its troops on combat operations.
Yesterday’s meeting comes at a time of rising Turkish influence in the Middle East and Central Europe. Before leaving for Washington, Erdogan said Turkey has contributed the “necessary number’’ of troops in Afghanistan and will press ahead with health, education, and infrastructure projects there.