Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Turkey's diplomacy policies could be shifting

Published on SETimes (
Is the orientation of Turkish foreign policy changing? Is Turkey swaying from the West to the East?
By Erol Izmirli for Southeast European Times in Istanbul -- 30/11/09

Although the Turkish government denies any foreign policy change, a shift in its regional priorities has triggered scrutiny -- especially in the Western world.
Washington-based foreign policy expert and Hurriyet Daily News columnist Ilhan Tanir spoke with SETimes correspondent Erol Izmirli on whether the country is changing its diplomatic course.
SETimes: In the ongoing debate on whether Turkey has changed its axis, how would you describe the ruling Justice and Development Party's (AKP) foreign policy?
Ilhan Tanir: First, I think the AKP administration should be [viewed] primarily as a pragmatist administration rather than an ideological one. I would even argue that this is the most pragmatist administration Turkey has ever seen. In terms of this modus regarding foreign relations, the AKP sometimes comes into view as the most liberal and most western [focused] government in Turkey's history.
SETimes: Do you think the motive behind the new policies is to be a regional power or to become the voice of the Muslim world?
photoTurkey is looking for a better relations with the Kurdish population in Turkey. [Getty Images]
Tanir: The biggest reason for these pro-active policies, I believe, is to position Turkey as one of the regional powers like in the other parts of the world. Turkish foreign policy thinkers, [Foreign Minister Ahmet] Davutoglu as a leading actor, apparently believes that Turkey has enough tools in its toolbox to play this role. Its history, growing economy, relatively vast population, geographical location -- with its advantages or complications, religious identity as well as secular past, lead them to think that Turkey is indeed up to this task of being a regional power.
Turkey is trying to unlock its historic impasse with Armenia and is looking for better relations with the Kurds in northern Iraq as well as with the Kurdish population in Turkey. It also supported the reunification talks in Cyprus, especially during the referendum in 2004 ... and it still maintains a persistent approach for full membership of the EU .... Hence, it can be argued that Turkey is trying to advance its profile both in the East and the West.
That being said, I do believe that this strategic deep thinking and multi-dimensional approach incorporates many hazards. If this spirit of self-confidence is mismanaged, some of its consequences may be quite traumatic.
SETimes: Do you think Ankara's self-confidence will cause trouble in its ties with the West?
Tanir: Turkey's relations with its two immediate neighbours have raised many eyebrows in recent times -- with Syria and with Iran. In these two instances, Turkey received and still receives heavy flak from many policymakers and commentators, both in the West and Turkey.
Regarding [its ties] with Syria, the Turkish foreign policy team read the international conjuncture and foresaw that [it] had to compromise its hard stance and policies against Syria.
photoSyrian President Bashar al-Assad (left) and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul. [Getty Images]
On the other hand, Turkey has been trying to apply the same approach in its relations with another problematic neighbour, Iran. Turkey and Iran are the two countries that have been competing for regional influence for centuries ... The recent history with Iran, especially since the Islamic regime came to the helm in Iran about 30 years ago, [resulted in more] tense relations ...
SETimes: The cooling in Turkey's ties with Israel is also noteworthy in regards to the current foreign policy trends. How do you evaluate this?
Tanir: On first impression, Turkey's protest against Israel's approach makes sense. However, when this approach is looked into more closely, one can see that Turkey's political leaders do more than criticise. Turkey applies some sharp arguments in the international diplomatic relations between the two countries, which have had a pretty good recent record.
These arguments have been voiced over and over again, apparently to abridge the relationship with Israel. Turkish leaders [have not] lessened their criticism of Israel since the Davos Summit, while the Israeli side, at least a few times, has extended olive branches. Only recently did Israel's prime minister reject a Turkish mediation role with Syria, [which] officially ended the decades-long strategic alliance.
Is the West losing Turkey?
Tanir: What is the recipe for not losing Turkey? It seems a big concern and the main topic of many discussions in Western circles among policy makers and commentators alike. How can Westerners be confident of Turkey's supporting role when/if such a dramatic moment-of-truth comes? I am afraid that this also depends more on the Western countries, rather than the pragmatist Turkish administration.
The first steps of this Western assertive role can be taken when [Prime Minister Recep Tayyip] Erdogan visits Washington, DC in the beginning of December. During this visit, and in the future, [US President Barak] Obama has to extend some tangible offers. In other words, lay out some pragmatic reasons for Turkey to get closer to the Western alliance, in terms of the Iranian conundrum or in general, if he or the Western world wishes Turkey to side with them.

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