Turkey’s Attempt to “Manage” Iran


Yigal Schleifer, a journalist who consistently provides excellent analysis of Turkish politics and foreign policy from Istanbul, has a thoughtful article over at World Politics Review that breaks down the agreement among Brazil, Turkey, and Iran from Ankara’s perspective.
From his piece:

Turkey and its foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, appear to be taking a longer-term view on the issue, hoping to manage Iran, rather than confront it. The hope is that confidence-building measures might slowly change the Iranian leadership’s mentality. Turkish diplomats speak of changing Iran’s “psychology,” and, indeed, Davutoglu’s comments after the agreement was signed echoed that very clearly. The agreement represents “an important psychological threshold” of trust with Iran, he said after it was signed, adding that it also requires Tehran to make “psychological sacrifices.”
Turkey’s approach also appears to be shaped by a view that despite their status as regional rivals and its own worries about a nuclear-armed Iran, working with Tehran is the best way for Ankara to fully develop and realize its economic, political and diplomatic potential in the region. In that sense, the fuel swap deal is part of a wider Turkish effort to engage Iran and to put itself forward as an interlocutor that the Iranian regime can trust.
The risk for Ankara is that its own long-term approach to bringing Iran “in from the cold” does not fit into the tight timetable posed by the urgent questions surrounding Tehran’s nuclear program. At the same time, the Turkish government also appears to be staking its reputation and relations with Western allies on the hope that Iran is sincere in its own engagement with Turkey — and that the Iranian regime can actually be reformed. If Washington decides to move ahead on sanctions and disregard the fuel swap deal brokered by Turkey and Brazil, then Ankara just might find itself in the position of having improved relations with Iran at the expense of its relations with the United States and some of its other traditional allies.
Clearly, these are risks that Ankara is willing to take. In recent years, the trajectory of Turkish foreign policy has been marked by increased independence and self-confidence. Like the March 2003 vote by the Turkish parliament that denied the United States the possibility of opening up a northern front in its invasion of Iraq, the fuel swap deal signed in Tehran could very well offer Turkey another opportunity to further assert its independence and its vision for itself and the surrounding region. But for now, Turkey’s Iran policy remains a gamble.

You can read the full article here.
— Ben Katcher


24 comments on “Turkey’s Attempt to “Manage” Iran

  1. JohnH says:

    For Turkey to fulfill its potential, it needs to have access to sources of energy and trade with neighboring states. The US invasion of Iraq was a wake up call, for it destroyed a lucrative market for the Turks. As a result, Turkey realizes it cannot simply obey Washington’s latest notions of who’s evil and who’s not. There is a significant price to be paid for obeying Washington, and it is not Washington that pays that price.
    Interestingly enough, Iran has followed an entirely different development path, one forced onto it by years of sanctions. Instead of simply trading oil for everything they needed, like other petro states, they were forced to develop domestic industry to supply many of their needs. Import substitution is a proven development path, which the United States did during the 19th century.
    I have a friend who just returned from Iran and was impressed by what a prosperous place it seems to be. Iran is investing massively in educating scientists and engineers, including lots of women, a key to driving their economy in the future. As a result, Iran may prosper for years to come.


  2. larry birnbaum says:

    Turkey lives in a dangerous neighborhood, and I can’t say I blame them for trying to figure out how to make it safer (although I’m not sure that they’re going about it in a particularly competent way).
    That said, I have had a number of conversations with Turkish students in United States, all very talented, that have touched on what opportunity they see for themselves in Turkey. The answer is usually: not much.
    In order for Turkey to fulfill its “economic, political and diplomatic potential,” this is the issue it needs to address above all.


  3. JohnH says:

    You have to excuse Nadine. It seems that all week she’s missed her morning briefings from AIPAC, because AIPAC is totally flummoxed by Iran’s positive response.
    Imagine somebody saying “yes” to negotiations and reconciliation. Such concepts reside entirely outside AIPAC and Likud’s paradigm! Inconceivable! Unthinkable! It can’t possibly happen! The Iron Wall is crumbling!


  4. ... says:

    nadine, your 12:03pm post is completely vacuous like all your posts… whenever you actually get around to saying something substantial here, i’m sure everyone will welcome the 180 change while breathing a sigh of relief.. until then continue on with your empty headed posts and don’t expect to be treated any different by any of us…


  5. nadine says:

    Khalid and JohnH, you’re are keeping up your perfect record of fact-free “argument” by insult. Ad hominem is not argument, boys.
    The reason Erdogan’s criticism of Ahmedinejad would be significant, if it existed, is that if Erdogan hasn’t got any problems with Ahmedinejad’s behavior then there is nothing to “Manage” and the whole premise of Ben Katcher’s post is shown up as nonsense.
    “Nadine, I don’t think all world developments can measured in terms of US presidential elections?” (sweetness)
    Sweetness, the foreign policy of the US changes with different administrations, who can deny that? Every other world leader changes his calculations accordingly. This has nothing to do with elections and really shouldn’t be a controversial statement.


  6. ... says:

    yes, when has erdogan ever criticized ahemdinejad? that really is the question isn’t it? if we can’t answer that question, then we ought not to be a part of this conversation, lol….
    lets all fall in line and make sure everyone criticizes ahemdinejad… if someone is out of step, we will have to get them to goose step with everyone else, won’t we nadine? you are really quite the nazi type joker!!
    your brilliant analysis as is beyond our inadequate abilities!!! i would never want to challenge you, lol…


  7. JohnH says:

    Nadine’s “when has Erdogan ever criticized Iran” argument is all that AIPAC can come up with? As usual, question the man and his motives, not the substance of his accomplishment. Standard “gotcha” politics.
    Erdogan and Lula must really have thrown AIPAC into a tizzy!


  8. erichwwk says:

    It is interesting to compare the text of the Turkey/Brazil/Iran agreement
    (click on my name)
    with the UN (actually US) Draft resolution
    I see the willingness of the unaligned countries to challenge the monopoly of the US bloc (the policy of sanctions and hard power) as a very positive development. Perhaps this is what explains Dan K’s astute observation, reminiscent of the civil right garbage strike when folks proclaimed “I am a man”.


  9. Sweetness says:

    Who’s “Khalid”?
    Anyway, the development strikes me as a positive and hopefully it will work out well for the world.
    JohnH, don’t cartels yank the chains they hold to show their power, at least every once in a while?
    Nadine, I don’t think all world developments can measured in terms of US presidential elections?
    It’s equally possibly that Ankara knew that any US leader would be hemmed in a bit by its history with Iran and its own politics and waited until there was a president it felt might be open to such a move.
    Before you suggest (a la POA) that I’m making this assertion, I’m not–only suggesting it as a possibility. The other possibility is that situations outside the US develop without regard, or without complete regard, to whoever is in office. IOW…
    …it might just have been the right time for all kinds of reasons from Turkey’s standpoint.


  10. nadine says:

    Khalid, John, you seem to have forgotten what an argument is — it turns opinions based on facts. If you have an issue with what I said, have you got any evidence that it’s wrong? Can you find even one example of Erdogan criticizing Ahmedinejad?
    Hey, Paul, if this is response to 2003, how come Erdogan waited until Obama was in office for 18 months? It is surely much simpler to conclude that Erdogan (like every other ruler on the planet) has concluded that Obama is so weak – deliberately weak, weak by principle – that there is no reward for pleasing him and no price for crossing him.


  11. ... says:

    johnh – you spoke too soon, lol… baby hasbara is back!


  12. nadine says:

    “Turkey and its foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, appear to be taking a longer-term view on the issue, hoping to manage Iran, rather than confront it. The hope is that confidence-building measures might slowly change the Iranian leadership’s mentality.”
    Who wants to change it? What is it about Iran’s mentality that Erdogan doesn’t like? He has nothing but praise for Ahemdinejad. He’s moved into alliance with his fellow Islamists.


  13. JohnH says:

    Even AIPAC’s minders of the TWN site have been silent since Monday. It’s as if they have been struck dumb, like the corporate media’s hired pens and talking heads, waiting for instruction from Tel Aviv.
    It’s nice to have hasbara free dialogue for a change.


  14. ... says:

    dan k – good point too and while i may not read the websites/etc as much as you, i think you are correct in your view…


  15. David says:

    “Except for a few brave souls, it seems like they are all waiting for someone to tell them what to think, and reestablish their conventional wisdom bearings.”
    Pretty much captures them based on what I’ve observed for rather a long time now.


  16. Dan Kervick says:

    By the way, every so often something happens that reveals the extent to which the Washington punditocracy consists of a bunch of conformist lemmings. The dramatic and surprising events of the last few days on the Iran nuclear issue seem to have produced some kind of mental breakdown in pundit world, and slowed the usual garrulous flow of beltway words down to a confused trickle. Except for a few brave souls, it seems like they are all waiting for someone to tell them what to think, and reestablish their conventional wisdom bearings.


  17. Dan Kervick says:

    There is a fascinating essay by Davutoglu himself up at Foreign Policy’s Middle East Channel, which provides more context on Turkey’s regional challenges, and the approach they are following in dealing with them.


  18. Paul Norheim says:

    Very good point, John.
    Still fascinating to witness how the most credible North-South
    and East-West “bridges” enter the world stage in a coordinated
    performance as mediators, when US strategy fails.


  19. JohnH says:

    There’s more to it than Brazil’s just wanting to be a bridge. Brazil enriches its own uranium and could be a future target of the nuclear cartel, should its politics run afoul of Washington: “Political reasons of internal supply, as well as economic reasons make it useful to Brazil that this uranium enrichment should be processed in the Country.”
    Given how Obama tried to hold the TRR hostage to Washington’s politics, I don’t see how Lula could ever vote for sanctions, given that Brazil’s nuclear program could easily become a target.
    In addition, Brazil wants to build as many as 50 nuclear power plants in the next 50 years, so they definitely will need a reliable supply of fuel, free from Washington political machinations.


  20. Paul Norheim says:

    The potential rivalry between Tehran and Ankara aside, I see the
    Turkish approach as an obvious consequence of lessons learned
    during the beautiful spring of 2003.
    I think the US invasion of Iraq came as a surprise and a wakeup
    call for Ankara – especially regarding the “Kurdish question”,
    which suddenly seemed less controllable from the Turkish
    standpoint. It is perhaps difficult for most Americans to
    appreciate the general shock in the rest of the world when it
    was clear that America actually intended to invade Iraq as part
    of it’s “response” to 9/11:
    I would assume that the specific lesson Ankara learned from the
    invasion resulted in a decision to make more vigorous attempts
    to sculpture the future Middle East instead of allowing the US
    (heavily influenced by Israel) to “control” (read: trigger
    uncontrollable developments by their lack of understanding of
    the Middle East) the future of the region.
    As for Brazil, I assume that they – in broad terms – would like to
    be perceived as a bridge between North and South, just like
    Turkey is perceived as a bridge between East and West.


  21. JohnH says:

    My guess as to new DNI: Dennis Ross.
    In other words, someone who will hew to Haim Saban, Abe Foxman, and AIPAC’s line. Now they’re going for broke and need a new NIE on Iran, one that fixes the case for war.
    I guess Obama must love being dragged around by his nose and humiliated. Maybe soon he’ll even understand what Palestinians experience on a daily basis…


  22. DonS says:

    OT ,,,,,,:,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,
    Obama to replace DNI
    Wonder if Chas Freeman is still available. He seems an even better fit now, although he might have taken a poison pill by outing “the Lobby” . . .


  23. JohnH says:

    Davutoglu is absolutely right that the agreement represents “an important psychological threshold” of trust with Iran. This is the first agreement that Iran has signed with the West in 30 years.
    Now what’s needed is for the West, particularly the United States, to have an equally important psychological breakthrough. Brazil and Turkey have certainly forced the issue. Resolution of the issue will clearly reveal to the world whether Washington is only interested in getting its way and forcing its will upon the world. If Washington refuses to negotiate in good faith now, it will further alienate not just Iran, but most of Latin America as well as Turkey and possibly others in the Middle East.
    There is a solution to this problem, but it requires that the United States recognize that all signatories of the NPT have the right to peaceful uses of uranium. Whether that includes the right to enrich uranium or not, I can’t say. But it certainly means that signatories are entitled to an interrupted supply of nuclear fuel, else they will be forced to enrich their own. The nuclear cartel simply cannot yank the supply of nuclear fuel whenever the politics of a consuming nation displeases them.
    My guess is that to achieve this, Washington will have to agree that Iran can fully develop its nuclear power enrichment capabilities, as a guarantee against future perfidy by the nuclear cartel. My guess is that other nations, like Brazil, will now realize the need for this guarantee as well.
    As such, Washington’s intransigent stance against providing nuclear fuel to Iran–illustrated by the TRR debacle–is a gigantic setback to the cause of non-proliferation. Instead of playing power games with nuclear fuel, Washington would have been better off readily supplying it to signatory nations, obviating the need for other countries to develop their own.


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