Turkey Is Hunting on Opportunities

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Bahram Amir Ahmadian
Tehran University Teacher & Turkey Expert

Active ImageIran and Turkey are now closer than any time before. A visit to Turkey by the Iranian president and foreign minister last month and subsequent trip to Iran by Turkish president who was accompanied by four ministers, 135 state officials and more than 100 businesspeople were telltale signs of improving relations between the two countries.

In the following article, Dr. Bahram Amir Ahmadian, a teacher at the University of Tehran and an expert on Turkey reflects on the current foreign policy of Ankara and its goals in relation to Iran.

Since Ahmet Davutoğlu has been appointed as Turkey’s foreign minister, serious changes have taken place in the country’s foreign policy approaches. Of course, those changes cannot be solely ascribed to Ahmet Davutoğlu, but the whole political system in turkey has reached the conclusion that they need to develop new capacities in proportion to national interests of the country. Therefore, “return to Ottoman Empire” is a new concept which has been introduced to Turkey’s foreign policy because the country is planning to beef up its influence in such neighboring regions as the Mediterranean, Balkans, Caucasus, the Middle East and the Persian Gulf. On the other hand, Ankara cannot achieve its goals without support from the United States and its strategic position in the region, especially as the sole Muslim member of NATO. Therefore, Turkey is trying to do its part in various issues by any means.

This is why Turkey has become involved in Iran’s nuclear case, the peace process in the Middle East as well as recent political developments in some Arab countries as Egypt and Tunisia. However, I believe that Turks are expecting too much of their foreign policy capacities. Although the country enjoys good capacities due to the US support and its own geopolitical situation in the Middle East, I believe that it expects too much of its foreign policy and may not be able to achieve all its goals. Of course, Turkey has launched diverse plans and it has been able to implement a number of those plans.

Therefore, by adopting the new “Ottoman Empire” approach in its foreign policy, Ankara is trying to increase its influence on Muslim countries. This is why Erdogan challenges Israeli counterpart in Davos to appease the Muslim community while maintaining strategic relations to that country. In other words, Turkey is trying to pass itself as an anti-Israeli government on the outside in order to play a more effective role in power equations of the Middle East and Arab-Israeli peace process.
In addition, Turkey is trying to draw attention from the Muslim world in order to attract both tourists and investments.

At present, neighboring countries are high on the list of Turkey’s foreign policy priorities and this was clearly announced by the Turkish President Abdullah Gul in an interview with BBC television. Asked why Turkey was interested in Iran’s nuclear case, he added that the case was evolving in a neighboring country and any development surrounding Iran’s nuclear case will influence Turkey.

Peripheral environment is, therefore, is of high significance to Turkey’s foreign policy. This approach dates back to the Ottoman Empire when the country had to deal with the Safavid government, on the one hand, and the European countries, on the other hand. This is why the Turkish foreign policy attaches the highest importance to surrounding regions. One of these regions is the Balkans which has common borders with Turkey. The second region is Cyprus with the third region of importance being Caucasus. Turkey shares borders both with Georgia and Armenia. On the other hand, a narrow strip of land connects Turkey to Nakhichevan, an exclave of Azerbaijan.

Turkey is trying to first solve its problems with surrounding countries by reestablishment of ties with Armenia and finding a solution to the problem in Cyprus. On the other hand, Turkey is taking position on the situation in Egypt because the two countries can expand bilateral relations across the Mediterranean.

Active ImageTherefore, it is a priority to expand ties with neighboring countries. Turkey has common borders with Greece and Bulgaria and, as such, borders the European Union. The European Union enjoys a special position in Turkey’s foreign policy equations. It seems that Turkey is trying to promote its regional status to make Europe ask Ankara for accession to the European Union. Erdogan announced that the Turkish government will not ask EU for membership anymore. This shows that Turkey is pursuing to increase its regional weight by entering into various regional equations.
Ankara seeks to prove that EU needs it and it is for EU to call for Turkey’s membership in the Union.

Iran is another area of interest to Turkey’s foreign policy. Ankara is a major customer of the Iranian energy, especially oil. On the other hand, Turkey is aware that Iran is suffering from international sanctions and it can avail itself of the current circumstances. Therefore, Turkey has announced that it will not observe unilateral anti-Iranian sanctions which have been imposed by certain countries outside the framework of the Security Council resolutions. Turkey, thus, is trying to indicate that it pursues an independent foreign policy. This is why Ankara did not allow the United States to use its airspace to attack Iraq.

Therefore, I believe that Turkey’s foreign policy has been very smart and followed a consolidated framework. Decision-making authorities are not multiple. For example, although the Turkish military sways great influence, military commanders have never adopted independent policies and have left formulation of the country’s foreign policy to the state. This is unlike the situation in our country where multiple decision-making centers make different, and at times incongruent, decisions. A single policy is followed in Turkey which has greatly helped it achieve foreign policy goals. As said before, Turkey is currently cashing in on Iran’s sanctions. Ankara also followed a two-tier policy throughout Iran’s war with Iraq. It enjoyed close relations with both countries. Ankara did not care about two neighboring countries being at war; it rather tried to find new markets. At present, imposition of tough sanctions against Iran has provided Turkey with a good opportunity for investment. Now that other countries avoid of investing in Iran, Turkish investors have become more active than before. This is why I believe that the Turkish government is hunting on opportunities.

Source: Iranian Diplomacy
Translated By: Iran Review

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