The Importance of Being Turkey

A couple of days after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad dismissed the year’s end deadline imposed by the West to accept a nuclear deal, the Iranian foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki said that Turkey would be an acceptable place for an exchange of enriched uranium for nuclear fuel.  The original plan had Iran sending enriched uranium to France and Russia and receiving fuel rods back about a year later.  While the FM went on to talk about respect and ‘trust-building,’ the important piece of this development is the inclusion of Turkey as the neutral site.

Ankara responded to the FM’s comments by welcoming the opportunity to find a diplomatic solution to the crisis.  If this is actually a counter-proposal and if this counter-proposal is accepted, it would mark a great break through with the Islamic Republic. However, if none of this is true, or a deal is not reached, Turkey would again come out as the winner.

In what has been a very good year for Turkey, this may be yet another political victory and another step towards a serious leadership role in the mediation between east and west.  Ankara is not only in talks to enter the EU, but has also had a number of meetings with Middle Eastern officials, including a serious rapprochement with Syria.  In the last year Turkey has also embarrassed Israeli President Peres (a move that was greatly respected in the Middle East), lifted visa restrictions with Syria, received (or planned to receive) high-ranking officials from Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon and visited US President Obama in Washington.

Turkey, a large Muslim country and an integral member of NATO, is clearly an asset for the West.  Yet, its regional integration policies have made the country an asset to the Middle East as well:

He talked about the radical changes that had taken place in foreign trade with the recent strategy that Turkey had implemented, named the neighboring and regional countries strategy, and said: “Our trade with neighboring and regional countries was around 7 percent [of total trade]. In a very short period this figure increased to 49 percent with the new strategy. The sevenfold increase in our trade [with neighboring and regional countries], which was around 7 percent just seven years ago, is very important for the US as well. That is because Turkey has become a trade partner with countries that are also important for the US. The inclusion of countries such as Iran, Iraq, Syria and Russia carries a separate meaning for the US. Turkey’s extraordinary success in the recent period and the improvement of its credit rating increases the weight of economic aspects in bilateral relations.”

Tüzmen underlined that each relationship with neighboring countries is important in different ways and said it was very likely these relations would be discussed during Erdoğan’s visit to the US. Turkey has made clear that it does not want a nuclear threat in the region and is pursuing a balanced policy over the issue. Trade with Iran has increased tenfold in the last seven years, reaching $10 billion. He pointed out that Turkey’s trade with Syria and Iraq, which was less than half a billion dollars, has increased to around $5 billion and that Turkey has become an important trade partner with Iran as well as with Russia, with which it has a trade volume of $50 billion.

If Turkey continues to successfully walk the line between East and West using its economic integration policies to catalyze diplomatic relations in the Middle East, a very powerful Ankara could emerge.  Perhaps getting wait-listed for EU membership was not a setback at all.

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2 thoughts on “The Importance of Being Turkey

  1. With extremists, i.e., those who voluntarily select violence as their means of achieving goals, still in control in the U.S., Iran, Afghanistan, and Israel, an enormous political vacuum exists in the Mideast. The genius of the Erdogan-Davutoglu team is that they realize this and are acting to fill that vacuum. Turkey might have trouble leading the Mideast by force (even the U.S. seems unable to do that) and has plenty of economic competition, but it is now occupying a vacant position as moral leader.

    Erdogan wins just by trying in a sense, but truly to win, he does need some help from the antagonists. Turkey will have no room to negotiate if the opposing sides refuse to compromise. The U.S. and Iran will need to give a little if Turkey is to succeed in brokering a nuclear deal. Israel and Syria will need to give a little if Turkey is to succeed in brokering a peace deal. Whether or not the adversaries will compromise is unclear: everyone is letting pride get in the way and far too many politicians are making great careers out of waving the bloody flag.

    But just by trying, just by making the case for moderate compromise, Erdogan is altering the tone of regional affairs.

    A point that may be particularly worth watching is what might happen if one side cooperated with Turkey while the other side slapped Turkey down. Some very interesting regional realignments could result.

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