Monday, October 05, 2009

Iran looms larger on Turkey (II)


Turkey, in terms of dealing with Iran, is one of the most unpredictable countries. Dr. Ahmet Davutoğlu, Turkey's foreign minister, and the architect of foreign policy for almost a decade now, also steers the Iran policy. Dr. Davutoğlu's intense lobbying for years toward a mediator role between Iran and the West has not been realized so far, amid not being given a chance to host the current on-going talks, which are being held in Geneva, instead of Istanbul.

We certainly should overcome this disappointment and try to analyze the latest developments around the Iranian nuclear program from Turkey's perspective, and luckily, we do have some recent concrete evidence to do so. It is Erdoğan's latest speech at the U.N. General Assembly. In his remarks, Erdoğan, while the discussion about the Iranian nuclear program has been buzzing in New York, chose to address mainly critiquing Israel's unjust war in Gaza, a war that happened almost a year ago but the effects of it still continue. I do think highly of Erdoğan's passionate plead for justice and pointing out the Gazans' poor living conditions, however, I do not understand why Erdogan has not added also the Uighur Turks' drama in China in recent months or great atrocities committed in Darfur as well, while he was on the subject.

Dr. Ibrahim Kalin, the top foreign policy adviser of Erdoğan, elaborated his boss' U.N. speech in his Oct. 3 weekly column in daily Sabah. In this column, Mr. Kalin mainly discussed the Goldstone Report, a report that is the U.N. Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict mandated by the U.N. Human Rights Council and written by Richard Goldstone, an Israel-loving Jewish judge. This report determined that both Israel and Hamas had committed serious violations of the laws of war during the 22-day conflict in December and January, some amounting to war crimes and possible crimes against humanity. Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself publicly appealed to international leaders to reject the report as it accused heavily Israel's disproportionate assault in Gaza.

Turkey's statements over Israel are important while we discuss the Iranian nuclear program because the country that especially feels existential threat by the possibility of Iranian nuclear bomb is Israel. We must agree that if there was no Israel push against the Iranian nuclear program, there wouldn't be such an intense pressure from America either. Like Pakistan, Iran also would have had its own nuclear bomb, without getting into this much trouble.

On the other hand, while Erdoğan was bluntly addressing Israel's war crimes at the U.N. podium and devoted an important portion of his speech to beat Israel, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu also gave a sparking and passionate speech against the countries that treat Iran softly: "Have those countries who did not abandon the U.N. Assembly when Ahmedinejad was talking (a day before) no shame?" Netanyahu asked and targeted therefore also Turkey, as one of those countries who didn't empty the room, during Ahmedinejad's speech.

In this case, an old Turkey, as a traditional American and Israel ally, would have been lined up behind these two countries against Iran. However, with the recent foreign policy orientation, thanks to Davutoğlu, Turkey has closed its ranks with Iran in recent years and the trade between two countries exceeded $11 billion from only $2 billion at the beginning of the decade. Turkey's energy dependence on Iran, as well as Russia, and Erdoğan's strong personal relations with Ahmedinejad and Putin also changed Turkey's classic alliance equation dramatically.

Turkey has been able to play an independent role in between the two worlds so far, however, one would certainly predict that this getting along with the two sides business, at some point, will come to an end. Turkey, since 2005-2006, amid lessening appetite for European Union reforms, and fastening relations with rogue regimes, has been creating many question marks amid Obama's hardened rhetoric against Iran, and possible vote to sanction Iran at the U.N. Security Council in the future. Even people like me, who appreciate the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, on many fronts as a much better alternative than the other opposition parties, have doubts over such a moment of truth.

Yes, the Iran episode looms large over many countries, but it does so much larger on Turkey. The policymakers and intellectuals, who tend to calculate the afterwards of the events, come to the conclusion that there is neither a viable military option available for Iran nor crippling sanctions. Iran's quest to nuclear power seems to be at an unstoppable stage, and many observers see nothing but a containment period looming over the relations with Iran.

While we are entering a possible period of deterrence, in which the West and the United States will try to isolate Iran as much as possible with the new Arab countries in the ranks, and work further to weaken the current Islamic regime with various ways as well as supporting the opposition in Iran, Turkey will not be able to maintain its close relationship ties with both sides, as was the case in recent years.

This looming containment period is expected to start sometime next year, if the current on-going talks in Geneva fail, as many predict. In light of the recent developments in New York, it has shown that Turkey has had a hard time convincing Iranians or the Western alliances about its trustworthiness when it comes to talking the vital issues. As one source who followed the U.N. and G-20 week in New York closely told me, Erdoğan learned about Iran's second secret uranium enrichment center of Qom with the rest of the world, meaning from television, when Obama, along with French and British leaders told the world. Therefore, it proved once more that Turkish officials were neither notified about the developments of this newly unearthed uranium facility by Iran, a country that hosts Turkish high officials very frequently, nor Turkey's biggest ally America, which learned about the nuclear facility officially through the International Atomic Energy Agency few days ago, but apparently they knew about it for months before.

In the coming times, amid being excluded from both sides, Turkey will have to choose to cooperate with one side. While Iran becoming an international castoff, and its current regime becoming a dictatorship, Turkey will have no other option but to join the international community. Even if Turkey currently seems unpredictable, and has a considerable dependence on Iran for energy and rising trade volume, Turkey's foreign policymakers, at some point, have to calculate their games according to the new power that will come to the helm of Iran, sooner or later.

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