July 12, 2011

Turkish Rush to Regional Authority

Interview with Siamak Kakaie, Turkish affairs’ expert.

Turkey has started a new era in its history. We have witnessed Turkey playing an important role in the Arab-Israeli conflict, in Iran’s nuclear dossier, and in the Lebanese case. Turkey’s foreign policy seems to have changed after the recent elections.

IRD: It seems that a new era of foreign policy has started in Turkey. How do you see this change?

SK: The new Turkish parliament has started its work with the Justice and Development party. Therefore, Turkey has started a new era in its foreign and domestic policy. This new government has set new priorities for itself, which are more evident in its diplomacy toward the region.

IRD: How is the new diplomacy defined?

Turkey defines a strategic role for itself in the region. Mr. Davutoglu, the Turkish foreign minister, has announced new stances for Turkey that show a change in its foreign policy. For example, he announced that Turkey officially supports the Libyan opposition. Turkey’s foreign policy was criticized during the past few months because of its conservative stance toward the Libyan developments, and many assumed that this position was due to Turkey’s economic interests in that country. In addition, Turkey tried to hold back on its position in regards to Bahrain and Yemen.

IRD: Are you referring to Turkey’s double standard in the region?

Yes; and this might be because Turkey was not able to explicitly announce its position in regards to the regional developments as it did in Egypt’s case. Therefore it seems that it will continue its critical position in regards to Syria while also opening up the possibility of negotiating and giving advice.

IRD: It seems that this dual policy has become balanced. Do you agree with this?

It seems that the Turkish government has entered a new phase in its Middle East policies, which is based on advancing its regional position. It can be said that Turkey is attempting a bolder role in regards to the Middle East developments. The diplomatic trips of Turkish officials to the region are in line with this policy as well.

IRD: Is the change in Turkey’s policy toward Libya based on the same policy?

This is exactly right. While the international community pressured Gaddafi to leave power, Turkey also changed its position to demonstrate that it is ready for political changes in Libya. Therefore, it started supporting the opposition, officially recognized them, and even proposed $ 200 million in aid. Turkey’s stance toward the region is based on the interests it has defined for itself in region. Turkey tries to consider the regional players in its new policy, and use their help to achieve its own interests.

IRD: Are Iran and Turkey defined as two rivals, or allies in the region?

Iran and Turkey are two neighboring countries which benefit from good relations as well. But their good relationship does not mean that their foreign policy stances or national security goals are identical. Therefore their perspectives on regional developments are different. Turkey has preferred to stay quiet in terms of its official announcements in regards to the Persian Gulf developments in Yemen and Bahrain. Therefore it seems that Turkey‘s policies in the region are to some extent in line with that of the US, Saudi Arabia and the PGCC. But Iran’s views are very different in this case.

Moreover, their positions in regards to the Syrian developments are not the same either. Turkey’s stance in regards to Syria is surprising even to Syrian officials as well, since these two countries had extended their relations to a strategic level and their past conflicts seemed to have been over. Turkey has changed its theoretical political thought in regard to Syria, opened its borders to the Syrian opposition, and is even talking about the necessity of reforms in Syria; therefore revealing two main indices in its foreign policy:

1- Turkey is attempting to turn into a source of reliance for the countries undergoing change in the Middle East.

2- Turkey defines multipurpose means for its future relations with these countries. In other words, it is trying to enter new indices into its foreign policy; indices like human and social rights. These indices were not present in the Justice and Development Party’s foreign policy before. In addition, its foreign policy toward the Middle East is in contrast with its policies a few decades ago. Before, it used to distance itself from regional conflicts but now it is approaching them to achieve its defined goals.

This country is trying to turn into a new model of policy and governance in the region in order to increase its bargaining power with the West in the future.

IRD: The US has asked Turkey to be a mediator in the case of the Israeli-Arab conflict. How do you assess this?

This is a long story. A group consisting of the UN, the EU, the US and Russia have conducted many activities since the 90’s to achieve peace in this case, but they have been unsuccessful, and no sign of peace has been seen in the last 9 years.

Recently, we witnessed some activities from Turkey. First, it proposed the idea of being a mediator to Israel and Syria, which both sides accepted (and mediatory meetings were held). Turkey is also trying to develop closer relations with Lebanon and Palestine, and its position among their people has also progressed. Turkey wants to achieve a position in which Arab countries announce and accept it as a mediator in the peace talks.

It has to be added that the US believes that Turkey has the capacity to play the mediatory role and help advance the peace procedure.

To sum up, it could be said that the synchronization between Turkey and the US is because of the definition Turkey provides for itself and the expectations defined by the US. On a regional scale Turkey is attempting to achieve a position where it is the referring source for conflicts, opposing groups, and countries in crisis

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