Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Will Turkey abstain from sanctions vote?

  Last Monday morning, first European capitals, then the American capital, woke up to a picture of the Turkish, Iranian and Brazilian leaders holding hands in the air. These smiling figures began to make waves throughout the world as the deal they brokered came as a big surprise to most.

Three different Turkish delegations were also in Washington, D.C., throughout the same week and boosted Turkey’s presence and visibility following the nuclear-enrichment deal. The delegations’ visit to Washington, the list of attendees and the organizing venue and programs kept changing over the last three weeks, but nobody expected the visit to coincide with – and then be overshadowed by – such a drastic turn of events on the Iranian track.
The initial news reports that appeared in the American mainstream media, in the very early hours of the first weekday, were quite positive. These reports were also apparently unsure in their tones as to what to make of this deal. Was it a breakthrough or another Persian “trick”?
The statements that came from Iranian officials later Monday helped shape the Western and also Eastern (Russian and Chinese) conventional wisdom quickly. Mr. Ali Ekber Salehi, the head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization, affirmed on the same day that Iran sees no relationship between the deal and its own enrichment work.
Five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus one, Germany, did not agree. Only a day after the deal, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the P5+1 had agreed on a draft resolution for a new U.N. sanctions package against Iran. The Chinese and Russians, the unwilling bloc, suddenly accepted the package after months of dragging their feet.
The deal that seemed to be a victory for many in Turkey was trashed as “clownish diplomacy” by some influential analysts in Washington. From the statements we have gathered from the circles of the U.S. government, and the leading editorials, which have been extremely ruthless toward the Turkish position, the Western policymakers viewed the nuclear deal as a Persian “trick” to ease the momentum that had been building at the U.N. Security Council.
But was the Turkish diplomatic work “clownish” or “victorious”?
The nature of the question tends to oversimplify what just happened. What happened was Turkey played its cards and reached the best deal that it could. Turkey convinced Iran to sit at a table, sign a black and white paper and demonstrate it could “do” it.
Turkey made a huge and loud statement last week that it does not want any more tension in the region.
Alas, the end production was just not good enough and the stakes for U.S. President Barack Obama were just too high for him to take the risk. Americans believe too much water has gone under the bridge since the last time the P5+1 tried to get a similar deal, some eight months ago. The U.S. spent months convincing China and Russia to back a sanctions package. The Obama administration also got scared that it could lose all that diplomatic work and collected momentum if it were to sit at a negotiation table, and then be snubbed by Iran at the end for some reason or another.
Another very convincing motive for the Obama administration to take a negative stand against building on a Turkish-mobilized diplomatic track with Iran is an extremely complicated matter that is linked to the upcoming November elections. Very briefly and simply, it is the Democratic Party’s expected big loses in the November elections, which got a preview during the Super Tuesday primaries night, when every candidate Obama campaigned for lost to anti-establishment and outsider candidates. With the Democratic Party nearing the loss of its majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, and at least a half a dozen Senators, it is trying to win every possible voting bloc.
One of the most significant when it comes to any elections is the Jewish bloc. Maybe that’s why Obama invites Jewish lawmakers and community leaders about every other week to the White House for various reasons and occasions.
Mr. Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s chief of staff, brought 15 rabbis from across America to the White House on May 13 and apologized and pleaded with them for another chance to “correct” the mistaken policy the U.S. administration had thus far pursued, according to the DebkaFile. Then Emanuel flew to Jerusalem and gave the same message, this time to Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu, last weekend.
The Obama administration is both trying to secure Jewish support and make sure there will be no sudden military attack on Iran by the Israelis.
The sanctions package, as a part of duel track, will be applied to lessen the “motionless” posture criticisms of the Obama administration when it comes to dealing with Iran, and buy time for Obama, and prove that he can deliver, even it is a piece of paper.
And it does not help Turkey at all when it has the worst relationship with Israel, during a period in which it is also rolling up its sleeves to be a mediator on the Iranian nuclear issue. The “enrichment deal” was seen as a stalling tactic by the Jewish lobby in Washington and the right-wing administration in Jerusalem. When I talked to one of the leading actors of the Jewish lobby in Washington last week, the heavy language I heard on the latest Turkish role was jaw dropping.
Nevertheless, the Obama administration ahs avoided criticizing Turkey directly and selected its words very carefully.
So far, the difference in the U.S. and Turkish positions toward the latest deal has been managed diligently and Obama has let the process play itself out while heading to a voting day at the Security Council.
Turkey, as $10 billion trade partner and immediate neighbor of Iran, is likely to be one of the biggest losers economically following such sanctions.
By initiating and signing the nuclear-enrichment deal, Turkey tied itself by stating that it believes in Iran’s good intention and the fairness of the agreement. After such physical statement in Tehran, it would safe to say it is now almost impossible for Turkey to swing back just a couple of weeks in time to support new U.N. sanctions and risk derailing all the work it has done for almost a decade.
Every indication said this week in Washington that Turkey will abstain from voting in the potential Security Council row. Every official who was willing to talk about such a scenario also affirmed that Turkey will, most likely, not vote “for” the sanctions, as a way to manage the situation without creating too much damage to relations with West or East.

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