Sunday, April 4, 2010

Neo-Ottomanism and Iran's Nuclear Program

Andrew Finkel has a good column in Sunday's Today's Zaman, looking at the much debated term "Neo Ottomanism," often used to describe Turkey's assertive new foreign policy, and how it relates to some of the thornier issues facing Ankara -- particularly relations with Armenia and Iran's nuclear program. From Finkel's piece:
....The notion of a more expansive, internationalist and problem-solving Turkey is an attractive one, as is that of a Turkey unfettered by nationalist-inspired tendency to isolationism. However, it is forced to confront a certain amount of skepticism. If Turkey is to adopt a neo-Ottoman posture, it has to contend with issues still unresolved from that imperial past. If it is to be a player in the great issues of the day, it cannot remain fettered by the great issues of a century ago. This is why the overture to Armenia that began with Abdullah Gül’s football diplomacy in 2008 had an importance even beyond the immediate issue of reducing tension on a troubled border.

The seeming collapse of that initiative has equally important consequences. The vote of a committee of the US House of Representatives to endorse a resolution recognizing genocide has sent Ankara into a tailspin or at least into a position which it struggles to sustain. Turkey withdrew its ambassador to demonstrate its displeasure, and the government has put pressure on civil institutions, such as the Turkish Industrialists and Businessmen’s Association (TÜSIAD), to cancel a US-bound delegation. Now the Turkish ambassador will go scurrying back to Massachusetts Avenue because, rightly enough, the prime minister realizes that not to take his seat at the Global Nuclear Security Summit in Washington in a week’s time would be a display of diplomatic pique that would do Turkey harm.

That summit will be attended by some 40 leaders, including Chinese President Hu Jintao. Barack Obama is far more aggressive in trying to curtail nuclear proliferation and in reducing America’s own stockpile. During the summit, the subject of Iran’s race to develop a nuclear capability is bound to come up. Turkey, counter-intuitively, maintains that Tehran’s nuclear program is not intended to produce an offensive payload and is in no mood to impose sanctions come what may. Instead, it advertises its ability to play the role of an honest broker as the best means of coaxing Iran into abandoning its efforts to develop a bomb. Yet it does so, having painted itself into something of an absurd corner. Ankara now fumbles to impose some sort of sanction not against Iran but against the United States. And it does so because of the wording of a proposed text commemorating a tragedy that occurred 95 years ago.
You can read the full column here. More on neo-Ottomanism in these previous posts.

Speaking of Iran's nuclear program, it appears that there is a (unspoken) disagreement between Turkish President Abdullah Gul and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan about what Teheran is actually up to. Erdogan has consistently defended Iran's nuclear program and has said he does not believe the Iranians are working towards building nuclear weapons (instead suggesting that other countries in the region (guess who) that already have such weapons and are criticizing Iran get rid of them first).

This more or less has been the position of the AKP government on the Iranian issue. A recent column in Forbes by foreign affairs writer Claudia Rosett finds President Gul speaking a bit more frankly on the issue. From her column:
Gul says he has no doubts that Iran wants the nuclear bomb: "This is an Iranian aspiration dating back to the previous regime, the days of the Shah." For Iran's current regime, says Gul, "I do believe it is their final aspiration to have a nuclear weapon in the end," as a matter of " 'national pride.' "

He says Turkey is against an Iranian bomb. He believes it would trigger a nuclear arms race in the Middle East: "A major competition will start in the region."
You can read her full column (critical of Turkey's "zero problems with neighbors" approach) here. Rosett visited Turkey as part of a group that was brought over by a Turkish think tank. Gul's office has not denied the substance of what Rosett quotes the President as saying, only saying he did not give an interview to Forbes. In this column, Milliyet's Semih Idiz follows up on Rosett's piece and the significance of what Gul said.

More on Turkey's struggle regarding the Iranian nuclear issue in these previous posts.

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