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Iran, Turkey Fail To Sign Energy Deals

Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad (left) talks with his Turkish counterpart, Abdullah Gul, in Istanbul.
ISTANBUL -- Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad and his Turkish counterpart failed to sign energy deals opposed by Washington, which is seeking to pressure Tehran into halting its nuclear program.

A joint statement from Ahmadinejad and President Abdullah Gul in Istanbul on August 14 said the two Muslim countries would continue discussing further energy cooperation.

Neither side gave a reason for the delay but stern faces by Turkish and Iranian officials at the Ottoman palace where the talks took place suggested a sombre mood.

"I think Turkey cannot afford politically to make a deal with them now and that's why it failed," said Soner Cagaptay, Turkish Research Program director at the Washington Institute.

A source from Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's office told Reuters earlier that Ahmadinejad's visit might not yield the expected oil and gas deals following new demands from the Iranian side, including pricing and investment conditions.

Gul and Erdogan have come under fire for inviting Ahmadinejad, who has lobbied hard since coming to power in 2005 to visit NATO member Turkey, which has strong ties with the United States and Israel.

Europe has shunned the Iranian leader, who has called for the destruction of Israel and defied international demands for a suspension of his country's nuclear enrichment program -- the subject of ongoing talks between Iran and Western powers.

"As long as we defend our rights, we support the negotiation process started in Geneva. We are open to the suggestions of our friends," Ahmadinejad told a joint news conference with Gul at an Ottoman palace on the Bosphorus.

The United States has voiced its opposition to the energy deal amid a standoff between Iran and Western countries and is trying to isolate the Islamic Republic over fears it is pursuing a secret nuclear weapons program. Tehran denies this.

"The American government has been against our people for 30 years, they always find an excuse," Ahmadinejad said.

After Russia, Iran is the biggest provider of gas to Turkey.

Nuclear Issue

Analysts have also questioned whether the Turkish government was serious about going through with the $3.5 billion investment project, given the possible U.S. sanctions Turkish firms could face and comes as Western firms pull out of Iran.

"Ahmadinejad's visit has symbolical meaning. With this visit Iran gives the world the message that it is not possible to isolate Iran," Arif Keskin, analyst at Ankara's Centre for Eurasian Strategic Studies, told broadcaster CNN Turk.

The Turkish government has said Ahmadinejad's two-day visit was necessary given the failure to resolve Tehran's nuclear program, and offered to help resolve the dispute.

"Iran and Turkey are two important countries in this region... It is natural for them to cooperate at the highest level," Gul said, adding he had asked Iran to take into consideration the international community's concerns about Tehran's nuclear program.

Analysts also say Turkey may have played up the nuclear issue to diffuse criticism over inviting Ahmadinejad. Turkey's powerful secularist establishment has long opposed his visit on fears he would seek to export the Islamic Revolution.

Turkey, which shares a border with Iran, opposes Tehran ever acquiring nuclear weapons.

Bilateral trade is estimated to reach $10 billion this year.

Turkey fears that a possible U.S. or Israeli strike against Iran will plunge the region into turmoil and hurt Turkey.

Gul and Erdogan have sought to boost Turkey's role as a mediator in regional conflicts.

Last year Ankara and Tehran signed a memorandum of understanding to export Iranian gas to Europe through Turkey, including a provision for Turkey to produce 20.4 billion cubic metres of natural gas in Iran's huge South Pars gas field.