(Photo Credit: State Department)
This post also appears at The Race for Iran.
Iranian Petroleum Minister Masoud Mirkazemi’s visit to Turkey last week highlighted Turkey’s multifarious equities vis-a-vis Iran.
A new article by Kadir Ustun, “Turkey’s Iran Policy: Between Diplomacy and Sanctions” in the current issue of Insight Turkey offers a Turkish perspective on Ankara’s relations with Tehran in the context of the nuclear issue and relations with the United States.
Several conclusions can be drawn from the piece.
First, while Ustun does not say this explicitly, he indicates that Turkey must keep some distance from the United States in order to maintain its credibility in the Middle East. During the Cold War, many Arab countries viewed Turkey with suspicion due to its close ties with the United States and Turkey has no interest in allowing anti-Americanism to prevent Ankara from exerting regional influence. This sentiment is understandably unpopular in Washington, but it is a fact of life for Turkey.
Second, Turkey sees itself as a natural candidate to mediate regional conflicts. Turkey’s leaders relish this role both because they view the resolution of local conflicts as in Turkey’s national interests and because mediation raises Turkey’s international profile and is popular at home. Effective mediation requires maintaining positive relations with all sides. Therefore, Ustun says that “Turkey saw no choice but to vote ‘no’ to the sanctions [on Iran] in order to protect its reputation as an honest broker.”
It is noteworthy that while Turkey has been (rightly) subjected to vehement criticism in Washington for its over-the-top reaction to the Gaza Flotilla crisis, many of those same people have criticized Ankara for seeking to maintain friendly relations with Tehran. The fact is that Turkey is most valuable as a partner when it enjoys friendly relations with all of the Middle East’s major stakeholders.
With that goal in mind, Ustun’s major theme is that Iran simply believes that diplomacy, rather than sanctions and threats, is the best way for the international community to engage the Islamic Republic of Iran. That is the crux of the problem between Turkey and the United States and will remain so until either the United States engages in more vigorous engagement or Turkey determines that diplomacy has failed and that a more confrontational policy is necessary.
— Ben Katcher