Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Nuclear Test

Alexander Jackson, senior editor at CRIA, an online journal covering the Caucasus and the surrounding region, has an interesting analysis piece looking at how the Iran nuclear issue might test Turkey's "zero problems with neighbors" foreign policy. From his piece (which includes some of my analysis):
Maintaining good commercial links with its neighbours is one of the central pillars of Turkey’s “zero problems with neighbours” approach. Widely lauded when it was developed by [Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet] Davutoglu in the early 2000s, this policy is now coming under serious strain. Turkey is attempting to utilise its regional links, and [Prime Minister Recep Tayyip] Erdogan seems to think that by publicly supporting Iran, he can benefit the West by maintaining a channel of communication which no other country has.

As [Yigal] Schleifer points out, “this is a risky approach”. Playing a double game cannot be sustained forever, and neither Iran nor the West will be pleased if Turkey appears to be misleading them. At some point Ankara will have to choose between harming its commercial interests in Iran and damaging its relationship with Brussels and Washington (not to mention Israel).

This point looks to be arriving soon, as the Security Council moves towards a vote on a new round of economic sanctions. Voting “no” would cause disappointment if not anger in the Obama Administration, and could also – as Lesser observes – be a further blow to Turkey’s EU membership ambitions. Voting “yes” would cause a rupture with Tehran, with all the related political and economic implications. Abstention, the most likely course, would be a diplomatic fudge.

It would raise the question of whether the ‘zero problems’ approach can survive in moments of crisis, when hard choices have to be made. It also tests the limitations of that policy. Does Ankara even have the leverage to persuade Iran to accept a deal?

Foreign Minister Davutoglu seems assured – in recent weeks he has confidently stated that concrete progress has been made on the topic, presumably regarding a proposal to enrich uranium outside of Iran (Today’s Zaman, April 21). However to date he has offered no concrete indicators of success.

In addition, Tehran has responded politely to Turkey’s offers of mediation, but it may simply be stalling for time. No other friendly states – including Russia and China – have been able to negotiate a deal. Ankara’s enthusiasm and confidence may be seriously misplaced, especially if Mr Gul’s comments are seen in Iran as proof that Turkey’s public and private positions are different.

The issue goes to the heart of Turkey’s foreign policy vision. If Ankara cannot persuade its neighbour, with whom it has “very special” relations, to change its behaviour, then its claims to regional influence will look decidedly weaker to the West, as well as neighbouring states. Its economic, political, and cultural links with Iran will come to be seen not as assets, but as liabilities. By proclaiming its support of Iran so loudly, and by insisting on its unique ability to mediate in the dispute, Turkey may be setting itself up for a fall.
You can read the full analysis here.

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