President Barack Obama failed to win immediate new pledges of support from Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday for U.S. goals toward Iran and Afghanistan.
At a news conference after his White House meeting, Erdogan stressed the role of diplomacy in persuading Iran to give up any nuclear ambitions it might have and made clear that Turkey does not see the need yet for new sanctions.
Obama has signaled that he may soon seek new sanctions from the United Nations against Iran for its defiance against revealing the extent of its nuclear program. Turkey, is important for U.S. goals as an influential neighbor of Iran and a current nonpermanent member of the U.N. Security Council.
"I indicated to the prime minister how important it is to resolve the issue of Iran's nuclear capacity in a way that allows Iran to pursue peaceful nuclear energy but provides assurances that it will abide by international rules and norms," Obama said in a joint appearance with Erdogan. "I believe that Turkey can be an important player in trying to move Iran in that direction."
Erdogan made clear his unwillingness to back new coercion.
"We believe that the role of Iran can only be changed through diplomacy," he said in a news conference after his White House meeting.
He also criticized current sanctions against Iran as being ineffective and allowing loopholes for Western goods to reach the Iranian market.
Erdogan said he told Obama he was willing to mediate negotiations between Iran and the West. It is not clear that the Obama administration is eager for Turkey to play that role.
On Afghanistan, the United States would like to see Turkish troops join NATO combat missions, but Erdogan has resisted fulfilling that request, which would be unpopular in Turkey. Turkey's participation in the Afghan mission carries enormous symbolic importance because it is the only Muslim country working with U.S. and other NATO troops to beat back the resurgent Taliban and deny al-Qaida a sanctuary. Turkey also is NATO's only predominantly Muslim member.
Before leaving for Washington, Erdogan said Turkey already has contributed the "necessary number" of troops in Afghanistan, and Turkish military and police will train their Afghan counterparts and press ahead with health, education and infrastructure projects there.
Turkey took over the rotating command of the alliance's peacekeeping operation in Kabul last month and doubled its number of troops to around 1,750. Obama praised that contribution.
Following a working lunch and a 30-minute private meeting, Obama also expressed his condolences for a recent terror attack in Turkey.
At least five Turkish soldiers were killed and several others wounded in an ambush Monday in central Turkey. Authorities have not identified the attackers, but Kurdish and leftist militants are active in the area.