Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is expected to try to mediate between the U.S. and Iran on the latter’s contentious nuclear program when he travels to Seoul next week for a nuclear security summit, followed by a visit to Tehran.
During the summit, Erdogan is scheduled to meet with U.S. President Barack Obama, with whom he will discuss Iran’s nuclear developments. He is then set to travel to Tehran where he will meet with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, considered to be the highest authority on Iran’s nuclear issues. Reports this week said Erdogan would try to convince Khamenei, during their meeting, to abandon Iran’s nuclear program and also to reduce support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Erdogan’s meetings come at a vital time for Iran as it continues to feel the impact of heavy international sanctions and as speculation grows over a possible impending Israeli attack on the Islamic Republic’s nuclear sites.
The Turkish prime minister’s meetings also come just a few weeks before world powers are expected to start a new round of negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program. Western countries see Tehran’s ramped-up enrichment of uranium, a key element of bomb making, as undercutting its claims that its nuclear program is purely civilian.
The European Union’s decision last week to order Belgium-based SWIFT -- the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication -- which formally belongs to the EU, to disconnect Iranian banks from its system, is tough and will be effective, sources in Israel’s political echelon believe. The consequences could be far-reaching because the SWIFT network is used by most banks across the globe to transfer money. “This is a severe blow to the Iranian economy that can lead to its collapse,” Israel’s Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz said on Sunday.
However, as SWIFT’s cut-off of Iran began on Saturday afternoon, economists in the West say it is difficult to determine how dramatic the consequences will be for Iran.
Opposition websites in Iran reported in recent weeks that the public has felt the bite of economic sanctions. The Kalameh.com website recently said that citizens who arrived at markets across Iran to shop for an upcoming holiday to be celebrated his week, were stunned by the skyrocketing prices of commodities. Food prices sometimes rise on a daily basis, evidence of the galloping inflation in the country.
The ayatollah regime in Tehran has not officially responded to the impact of the SWIFT cut-off, but a former intelligence minister, Ali Fallahian, warned on Saturday that if Iran’s banks are cut off from the electronic clearing house, his country will use all possible means at its disposal to respond in kind. The former minister was quoted by the FARS news agency as saying that closing SWIFT to Iran is “like closing international waterways,” in an apparent hint that Tehran may close the Strait of Hormuz, used for a third of the world’s seaborne oil trade.
The U.S. has warned that a closure of the Strait of Hormuz would be a pretext for war.
Meanwhile, following Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s meeting with Obama earlier this month, and despite the U.S. president’s speech to AIPAC in Washington, pro-Israel organizations in the U.S. have questioned whether the White House indeed “stands behind Israel” regarding the Iranian threat.
The Emergency Committee for Israel, run by Evangelical Christian leader Gary Bauer and conservative commentator William Kristol, recently launched a 30-minute video which mocked Obama’s stated commitment to Israel.
“I do not trust the president on Israel,” Bauer said in an interview recently. The Republican Jewish Coalition also released a film which rejected Obama’s claims that his acts demonstrate his commitment to Israel.