Monday,24 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1255, (23 - 29 July 2015)
Monday,24 September, 2018
Issue 1255, (23 - 29 July 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Turkey and the Iran nuclear accord

Prospects of rapprochement between Iran and the West highlight the drop in Turkey’s regional and international fortunes, writes Sayed Abdel-Meguid from Ankara

Al-Ahram Weekly

The Iranian nuclear question has not come to an end. Far from it. The historic agreement that was signed in Vienna a week this past Tuesday marks the beginning of a wave of repercussions that will interweave and leave their imprints, starting from within the Iranian Islamic Republic itself and reverberating outwards into the Fertile Crescent, the Middle East and, at the centre of this, the heir to the Ottoman Empire, the subject of this report.

No sooner did they hear the news of the success of the negotiations than large segments of the business and commercial community, and the larger public, especially in the Anatolian east, expressed their joy through various media.

At the same time, their eyes turned toward the borders and gateways that, although they were never exactly closed in the literal meaning of the word, would now be fully and legitimately open, promising the economic boost that the Turkish people have been longing for, in view of the sharp decline in economic growth rates, soaring costs of living and an accumulating national deficit.

Moreover, it will no longer be necessary for merchants to take all those precautions to circumvent the restrictions imposed by the UN; henceforth they will be spared the heavy extra costs entailed in smuggling, camouflaging wares, giving bribes and the like.

Turkish political elites were not as unqualifiedly thrilled. True, as a whole, they did not conceal their happiness as they trained their sights on the 900-kilometre border with their Persian neighbour and eyed the prospects of an increase in the balance of trade from $14 billion to $30 billion.

Equally true, they breathed a sigh of relief at the end of the negotiating marathon after moments of near despair that it would reach a dead end. Nevertheless, such sentiments were tinged with a number of fears and anxieties held by Turkish politicians of all stripes, whether in government or the opposition.

Former president Abdullah Gül was one of the first to express happiness. The drawing of the curtain on the long diplomatic battle in the Austrian capital brought one of the greatest victories since the end of the Cold War, he said, adding his congratulations to all the parties involved the five permanent Security Council members and Germany and Iran and lauding the courage and persistence of all, especially President Barack Obama, US Secretary of State John Kerry, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif.

Nevertheless, he underscored the importance of implementing the articles of “the great deal.” He also expressed his hope that Iran will now alter its policy in the Middle East and work toward the settlement of other issues. He concluded, “This diplomatic victory can serve as a model for the other dilemmas with which this region seethes.”

Bülent Arinç, deputy leader in the outgoing Ahmet Davutoglu government, called on Tehran to not deny the role that Ankara played in resolving the crisis. He held that Iran should express its gratitude for this in some form or another.

But both Gül and Arinç’s calls to Iran were met by snubs. Officials in the Rouhani government, who were exulting in their country’s “historic victory”, did not comment on the remarks of their Anatolian counterparts.

Iranian Supreme Guide Ali Khamenei stressed that his country would continue its foreign policy in the Middle East and sustain its support for its friends in Iraq, Bahrain, Yemen and, more importantly, Syria. Relative to Turkey, it seemed that Khamenei’s remarks were meant to goad not just Gül but also and more particularly Erdogan.

The Turkish president had previously lashed out against Iranian policy in the region and demanded that Tehran withdraw its forces from, and respect the territorial sovereignty and unity of, the countries of the region. He also criticised Iran’s fuelling of sectarian strife and the involvement of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards in warfare in Syria and Iraq.

Therefore, Erdogan’s response to the nuclear agreement was very reserved. This was not because he was unhappy at the prospect of an injection of vitality into his country’s flagging economy. Rather, it was because he felt that the agreement would prolong the rule of his Syrian counterpart, Bashar Al-Assad, whom he has turned into a mortal enemy who deprives him of sleep.

This attitude prompted censure and sarcasm from opposition and intellectual circles, which accused him of being so obsessed with removing Al-Assad that he ignores Turkish interests and the marginalisation of Turkey’s regional and international role.

Turkish efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear crisis, which began in 2010 and culminated in an important meeting in Turkey in 2013, ran up against the obstruction of the P5+1, which implicitly rejected Ankara’s mediation.

While Ankara was sidelined, Iran, formerly regarded as a demonic state under the leadership of then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, managed to build new bridges with the West during the past two years of President Rouhani’s leadership.

Analysts have read such developments as indicative of a Western attempt to isolate Ankara from its regional and international environment, because of its “objectionable” policies towards the Middle East.

Such was the view of the Zaman newspaper, which bemoaned Ankara’s diplomatic decline under the Justice and Development Party (JDP) government with its “zero problems” policy. Turkey’s diplomatic status has sunk to rock bottom. This is despite the claims reiterated by Erdogan and his prime minister, Davutoglu, about the “precious isolation” that Turkey ostensibly chose for itself to maintain a distance from certain issues and areas, the newspaper wrote.

It went on to observe that, with his slogan “The world is bigger than five states,” the Turkish president seems to be trying to fill the shoes of late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, or former Iranian president Ahmadinejad, both of whom would shout and jeer defiantly against the West from the UN General Assembly podium, although these two at least could punctuate their remarks with sarcastic smiles.

The newspaper also noted that while Iran, after the agreement, will be in a position to increase its influence internationally, Turkey will have no one to turn to not even Qatar.

The well-known Turkish columnist Lale Kemal expressed her dismay at the irony that the foreign relations of her country, a NATO member, with the West should deteriorate so drastically under JDP rule while those between Iran and the West are improving.

She went on to stress that Turkey’s isolation will only grow worse if it continues to pursue the “ill-conceived” policies that the ruling party has applied over the past five or six years. Because of these policies, Turkey “lost its neutrality in an ongoing turmoil in the Middle East.” She described the policies as “sectarian in favour of Sunnis in the region.”

Turkey, she argued, “supported radical as well as moderate Islamic groups in [Syria]” opposed to Al-Assad’s regime. She wrote: “The JDP distanced itself from the West when it abandoned democratic policies.”

In brief, through its confusion between realism and fancy abroad and its deviation from the rule of law at home, Turkey under the JDP has lost much of its prestige, not only in the West but also in the Middle East.

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