U.S. urges ally Turkey to join Iran sanctions push

WASHINGTON Wed Mar 17, 2010 12:04pm EDT

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States urged Turkey on Wednesday to support more sanctions against Iran over Tehran's nuclear program, saying Ankara could face consequences if it moves out of step with the international community.

Assistant Secretary of State Philip Gordon, the State Department's top diplomat for Europe, said U.S.-Turkey relations were strong despite a row over a resolution by U.S. lawmakers branding the 1915-era killings of Armenians by Turkish forces as "genocide."

But he said Turkey, a non-permanent member of the U.N. Security Council that has been leery of the U.S.-led push to further punish Iran, must show it is "on board" with the move toward new sanctions.

"Many would be disappointed if Turkey is an exception to an international consensus on dealing with Iran," he told a news briefing before a speech on U.S. relations with Turkey, a fellow NATO member and pivotal regional ally to Washington.

"Turkey wants to be an important, responsible actor on the international scene. And I think joining the majority of the Security Council in doing this would reinforce that image," Gordon said.

"Not doing so would not contribute to that positive outcome ... I think that's a consequence."

The United States and other Western powers are seeking support new U.N. sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program, which they fear is a cover for developing atomic weapons.

But China, a permanent, veto-wielding member of the Security Council, along with non-permanent members Turkey and Brazil, have urged more time for diplomacy with Iran, which insists its nuclear program is purely for peaceful purposes.

DAMAGE CONTROL

Amid the Iran push, U.S. officials are trying to control the damage after a House of Representatives committee vote this month on the non-binding "genocide" resolution over the 1915 killings, a move which infuriated Turkey.

The House vote appeared to jeopardize halting progress by Armenia and Turkey to normalize relations, one key to stability in the south Caucasus, a region crisscrossed by oil and gas pipelines to Europe.

Turkey withdrew its ambassador to Washington and has said he will not return until Ankara gets assurances about the fate of the resolution, which the Obama administration opposed.

Gordon repeated the White House's hope that the resolution would not move forward in Congress but denied there was any deal with Democratic lawmakers to kill the bill outright.

"There's no deal. The Congress is an independent body and they're going to do what they decide to do," he said.

But Gordon called on Ankara to return the ambassador anyway, saying the breadth of the bilateral relationship -- which includes cooperation on Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and the Middle East -- was too important to link to any one issue.

"We would like to see the ambassador here. We think he should be here, making Turkey's case," Gordon said.

He said the relationship was a two-way street and noted that Washington was a strong supporter of Turkey's bid to join the European Union, one of Ankara's chief goals.

"On nearly every issue that is critical to Turkey's future, the United States plays an enormously important role as a trusted friend and ally," Gordon said. The relationship, he added, "requires hard work and attention -- on both sides."

(Editing by John O'Callaghan)

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