Turkish Mediation between Iran & West: A Dream for Mounting Diplomatic Weight

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Siamak Kakaei

Following the IRI Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki’s recent visit to Ankara for talks with Turkish leaders, observers maintain that the new situation in the region, particularly the interest shown by the Turks to mediate between Tehran and the West was one of the pivots of this important visit.

Turkish Prime Minister Rajab Tayeb Erdogan had recently talked about the possibility of Ankara’s mediation between Tehran and the West to resolve Iran’s nuclear crisis. Also, the Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babajan on Wednesday (July 16) officially spoke about his country’s mediation between Iran and the West and told reporters that Mottaki had traveled to Turkey for the same purpose.

Why Turkey has entered Iran’s nuclear case and why does it want to play the role of a mediator?

In explaining the reason for this action, it must be recalled that Erdogan has been trying since two years ago to offer a new definition about Turkey’s foreign policy in the Middle East. For the same reason, Turkey began to activate its regional diplomacy. Among evidences attesting to this policy mention can be made of its presence in the talks on Palestine, consultations with Arab states, the Iraqi issue, Ankara’s proposals to improve the security situation in Iraq, and its mediation between the Zionist regime and Syria.     

As far as Iran is concerned, the Turkish move can be justified within the same new policy but at the same time Ankara wants to play an international role as well because the Iranian nuclear issue is one between Tehran and the Western states.

A glance at Turkey’s foreign policy over the past few years will make it clear that Erdogan is a follower of the late Turkish President Turgut Ozal in early 1990s. In those years, Ozal tried to offer a new definition of Turkey’s role in regional interactions by getting involved in the Kuwait war.

Ozal’s argument was that after World War II until those years, Turkey had been playing a sideline role in the regional disputes and its foreign policy was based on refraining from involvement in regional confrontations. The most obvious example was Turkey’s neutral role in the Iraqi imposed war on Iran (1980-88). Turkey in those years maintained good relations with both Iran and Iraq and reaped huge benefits out of trade with the two countries. But it never entered the game politically and made no effort to end the crisis.

On the other hand, Turkey’s foreign policy after World War II was subject to the US foreign policy. The membership of Turkey in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) as well as other regional organizations and alliances was done in line with this very policy. But Ozal by getting involved in the Kuwait war, tried to alter his country’s role in the region.

And now Ozal’s international policy is being revived by Erdogan. What about now? Is Turkey’s foreign policy still subject to the US foreign policy?

At present, new players have entered Turkey’s foreign policy and turned it into a multilateral policy. It should also be noted that Washington’s look towards Turkey has changed. Ankara is no more considered a strategic ally of Washington. This change of US policy occurred after Turkey refused to cooperate with the US and allow American army use its territory for attacking Iraq.

But from the new players’ point of view, the attitude of the European Union vis-à-vis Turkey and Ankara’s efforts to become an EU member, should not be overlooked. Turkey has no choice but to pay attention to the EU. Erdogan during his premiership has tried to expand Ankara’s regional outlook. Erdogan is personally eager to develop Turkey’s relations with the regional countries, particularly the Muslim states and this in turn would lead to EU’s promotion of relations with Turkey.

To shed more light on the reason for the change in US attitude towards Turkey, it must be said that with the start of the Iraqi war, the domain set by Washington for Ankara changed too. The US Undersecretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz in reaction to Turkey’s opposition to let US use its territory for attacking Iraq had said: “Ankara has made a strategic mistake.”

Following this US change of policy, Turkey tried to redefine its regional role and followed two aims behind these efforts: First to enhance its regional weight to gain special concessions. Secondly to show America that Turkey is an active regional player. Here we are witnessing Ankara’s growing relations with the US partly because of the threats Ankara feels from the Iraqi side and partly because of its decision to stop following the US and become an important regional player.

Before the IRI foreign minister’s Ankara visit, the US high national security advisor Stephen Hadley visited Turkey and held talks with Turkish president, prime minister and foreign minister. Was Hadley’s Turkey visit just one day before Mottaki’s visit in line with Ankara’s mediation between Tehran and the West or did it have another goal? Even before Hadley’s visit, other American officials visited Turkey and held talks on Iran’s nuclear issue with Turkish leaders.

Simultaneously, American officials have been visiting other Middle Eastern countries as well, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s tour of the region, Vice-President Dick Cheney’s visit to Saudi Arabia, and even Bush’s tour of the Middle East. The most important aim of these visits is to win the support of the regional countries for Washington’s Middle East policies. I believe the visits of the American officials to Turkey too follow the same goal and these consultations are likely to continue.

Meanwhile, Turkey’s mediation between Syria and the Zionist regime and its active presence in other Middle East issues comes at a time that Ankara itself is facing some challenges inside the country and the ruling party is on the threshold of dissolution. But despite these challenges, the regional policy is top on Erdogan’s agenda and the Turkish prime minister is likely to continue this policy as long as he is in power.


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