Page last updated at 07:05 GMT, Saturday, 14 November 2009

Turkey 'could store Iran uranium'

By Jonathan Head
BBC News, Istanbul

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan
The leaders of Iran and Turkey are on friendly terms

Turkey and the UN's nuclear watchdog have confirmed they are discussing a proposal to allow Iran to store some of its enriched uranium in Turkey.

Iran is under international pressure to accept a deal to send its enriched uranium abroad for reprocessing.

It has so far refused offers by France and Russia to do this and insists its nuclear programme is entirely peaceful.

But the US and Europe say the amounts of uranium Iran is enriching could be used to build a nuclear bomb.

The speed with which fences have been mended between Iran and Turkey in recent months has caused some unease among Turkey's traditional allies in the West.

Rising power

And the open display of warmth between President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan during their meeting in Tehran last month may have caused a few missed heartbeats in Washington.

But could this new axis serve a purpose?

Turkey prides itself on being a rising regional power, and a potential mediator in the Middle East.

Suddenly it is being talked about as a solution to the deadlock between Iran and the UN Security Council over Iran's nuclear programme.

A satellite image of what analysts believe is the facility at Qom

Iran has so far been lukewarm towards a proposal, made last month after six-party talks in Geneva, that it hand over its enriched uranium to Russia for eventual reprocessing in France.

Now its neighbour Turkey - which has a predominantly Muslim population - is offering to store the fuel for Iran.

The two countries discussed the idea at an Islamic summit on Monday, and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has taken it up too.

Turkey has no nuclear programme of its own and repeated attempts to build one have been still-born.

But the IAEA says the enriched uranium produced by Iran - the source of so much anxiety over potential nuclear weapons - is actually quite simple to handle.

Turkey could quickly build such a facility and all that would be required would be IAEA monitoring of the stock.

If this deal takes off, Turkey will already have proved the worth of its policy of "zero problems" with its neighbours.

It would also help quiet those critics who believe that Turkey's shift eastwards must inevitably mean a loss for the West.

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