Monday, June 15, 2009

The Iranian Elections: The View from Turkey

Busy with domestic issues, the Turkish press hasn’t commented much on the disputed elections in Iran. Perhaps that commentary is coming, since I think the unfolding events in Iran are extremely significant for Turkey on numerous levels.

Ankara, of course, has been one of the main proponents of engagement with the regime in Iran, offering itself on several occasions as a mediator between Tehran and the West (Washington, in particular). As part of its “zero problems with neighbors” foreign policy, Ankara has dramatically improved its relations with Tehran in recent years, with trade, military cooperation and diplomatic contacts all improving significantly. But the developments in next-door Iran could pose a challenge for Turkey and its engagement with the country. How should Ankara respond to the serious allegations of electoral fraud in Iran (Turkey has yet to really say anything about the elections one way or another)? How does Ankara respond to an Iranian regime that may turn towards greater repression in order to maintain its hold on power? (Perhaps a Davos style lecture by Turkish PM Erdogan to Iranian president Ahmedinejad about the futility of violence?) What does Turkey – which, ultimately, is as concerned about a nuclear Iran as anyone else – do about an Iran which may take an even more defiant tone regarding the nuclear issue? It’s one thing to have “zero problems” with neighbors, but what does Turkey do about a neighbor – one that, like Turkey, sees itself as a regional heavyweight – that might become increasingly problematic? Depending on how things shake out in Iran, Ankara and newly-installed foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu, creator of the “zero problems” policy, might be forced to make some tough decisions and to confront the limits of its aspirations to be a regional mediator and power broker.

(Photo -- Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmedinejad during a May, 2006 meeting in Tehran.)

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