Turkey hopes diplomatic settlement of Iran nuclear dispute

Can Turkey avert Middle East disaster?

ANKARA - Iranian parliament speaker Ali Larijani was holding talks with Turkish leaders Thursday on Tehran's controversial nuclear programme amid an international standoff between Tehran and world powers.
Larijani, a former nuclear negotiator, met with Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu during a breakfast and parliament speaker Cemil Cicek but no statement was made to the press.
"We favour a settlement to the nuclear dispute through diplomatic means," foreign ministry spokesman Selcuk Unal told a weekly press conference.
The United States has ratcheted up pressure on Iran and is spearheading a campaign to squeeze its oil exports over its nuclear programme, which the West believes masks a drive to develop atomic weapons.
Iran insists the nuclear drive is exclusively for peaceful purposes.
The European Union is expected to announce further sanctions of its own, including an oil embargo, at the end of this month, while Japan said Thursday it was reducing its imports of Iranian oil.
Turkey has repeatedly said it is only bound by sanctions decided by the UN Security Council.
Iran provided about 40 percent of Turkey's oil needs in 2011. And its biggest refiner Tupras recently made a deal to purchase nine million tons of crude oil from Tehran, media reports said.
"We are not bound by any decision except for the UN decisions," Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said on Thursday.
"Tupras is continuing its imports ... and as of today there has been no change on our roadmap," regarding imports from Tehran, he added.
Larijani was due to meet President Abdullah Gul and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan later in the day. He is expected to hold a press conference at 1800 GMT.
The talks over Iran's nuclear programme are expected to intensify in the coming days as Iran's Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi will visit Turkey on January 19, said diplomatic sources.
Last week when Davutoglu was in Tehran, his Iranian counterpart Salehi said he would like to see a resumption of the nuclear talks with world powers last held in Istanbul a year ago.
Ministry spokesman Unal said no date or venue has been agreed yet for the start of the talks.
"If a demand or a request is conveyed to us in order to host (nuclear talks), we will consider it favourably," he added.
"What's important is to give a chance for diplomacy and to solve this problem through diplomatic means before the tensions escalate."