Major Goals of Davutoglu’s Iran Visit

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Seyed Jalal Dehghani Firoozabadi
Ph.D. in International Relations, Brussels University & Professor at the Allameh Tabatabaei University, Tehran

Ahmet Davutoglu, the prime minister of Turkey, arrived in the Iranian capital city of Tehran today, March 5, 2016, heading a high-ranking political and economic delegation. In view of the two countries’ different viewpoints on the ongoing crisis in Syria, perhaps some analysts may consider this trip as unexpected and, of course, only a formality. However, on the opposite, this trip has important motivations and goals behind it and can be even considered as part of a bilateral and regional strategy. In order to correctly understand the goals of this trip, it should be expounded within the framework of Turkey’s foreign policy approach toward Iran, in particular, and the entire region, in general.

Turkey’s foreign policy approach toward Iran is based on three main principles of balance, separation and a combination of confrontation and interaction. Based on the principle of balance, Turkey is trying to establish some sort of positive balance in its relations with regional powers in the Middle East. Following escalation of tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia and severance of diplomatic ties between the two countries, the balance of Turkey’s regional relations tipped in favor of Saudi Arabia. Therefore, this trip can be considered as an attempt by Ankara to reestablish a relative balance in relations between Iran and Turkey at regional level. This is true as Turks are well aware that disruption of regional balance in favor of Saudi Arabia will have negative consequences for Turkey. Saudi Arabia’s leadership and hegemony in the Arab world, especially in the Persian Gulf region, is at odds with Turkey’s neo-Ottomanism policies. On the other hand, efforts made to rebuild and normalize strategic relations between Turkey and Israel in recent months called on Turks to boost interactions with Iran in order to maintain the balance in their regional relations, because adoption of imbalanced policies by Turkey will prompt Iran to take regionally disbalancing action.

Based on the principle of separation in Turkey’s foreign policy, this country has been trying to differentiate between bilateral relations with Iran, and multilateral relations and regional issues. In doing this, despite severe difference with Iran over the crisis in Syria, Turkey has been doing its best to prevent this difference from negatively affecting bilateral relations with the Islamic Republic. This separation is a sign of strategic rationality in the two countries, which are trying to avoid following the principle of “all or none” in their foreign policy. Therefore, this trip enjoys very high importance and significance at both regional and bilateral levels. At bilateral level, bolstering mutual cooperation, and at regional level, making efforts to manage the crisis in Syria and prevent its escalation are on the agenda of both sides. Consultation about controlling the existing tensions in relations between Turkey and Russia and between Iran and Saudi Arabia is another goal of his Tehran visit. Although separation between bilateral and regional relations in Turkey’s foreign policy has so far prevented further escalation of tensions in Turkey’s relations with Iran and prevented crisis in those relations, it seems that resolution of regional crises needs more interaction, rather than, confrontation with Iran. This issue will be discussed during bilateral negotiations in this trip.

Meanwhile, bilateral common and conflicting interests at the regional level have caused Turkey’s foreign policy to adopt the behavioral model of interaction and confrontation vis-à-vis Iran. In order to meet common interests and fend off common threats in relations with Iran, Turkey needs to interact and cooperate with the Islamic Republic. This is especially true as Ankara needs to bolster and intensify interaction and cooperation with Tehran in order to meet its economic interests by claiming a share in Iran's market following the conclusion of Iran's nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The necessity of making sure about the supply and security of energy after escalation of tensions in relations between Turkey and Russia makes development of Turkey’s interaction with Iran an inevitable necessity. On the other hand, Iran's rising power following the JCPOA and expansion of its regional influence in recent years has encouraged Turkey to adopt a policy to counteract this situation. As a result, Turkey has been trying to counter what it considers as the expansion of Iran's regional influence both unilaterally and multilaterally. Development of Turkey’s relations with Saudi Arabia and Israel can be considered as a step in line with this strategy.

In fact, by creating balance in relations, Turkey is trying to counter what it calls Iran's policy of unilateralism. Turkey is trying to pretend that it believes in multilateral regional management and needs Iran to behave in this framework. Therefore, making an effort to generalize bilateral interaction in relations between Iran and Turkey to regional and multilateral levels can be considered as one of the goals of Davutoglu’s Iran visit. Realizing this goal needs a compromise on the part of Turkey over maximum goals that it pursues in Syria crisis in view of its long-term geopolitical interests, instead of short-term ideological ones. This is true because continued support for Salafist groups in Syria may help Turkey realize its short-term interests, but will also threaten Ankara’s long-term geopolitical interests both at national and regional levels.

Key WordsAhmet Davutoglu, Turkey, Iran Visit, Tehran, Principles, Balance, Separation, Confrontation, Interaction, Syria, Russia, Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Saudi Arabia, Israel, Geopolitical Interests, Foreign Policy, Dehghani Firoozabadi

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*Photo Credit: ISNA

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