Turkey’s diplomatic ground is weakening due to crises
The third Mediterranean Dialogues (MED) meeting brought together representatives from 56 countries in Rome on Nov. 30 for three days of talks under the title of “Beyond Turmoil, A Positive Agenda.”
The title indicates a desire to leave various problems behind and move on, at a time when EU countries are dealing with serious problems such as terrorism, crises in the Middle East, Brexit, the refugee crisis, and the Ukraine-Baltic confrontation with Russia.
Perhaps reflecting a more long-term perspective, this year’s MED is focused on listening to more non-Mediterranean countries. As a result, non-Mediterranean countries like Russia, Iran, India, China and Saudi Arabia are represented here at the foreign minister level. Around 80 think tanks and international institutions are also in attendance.
The Turkish government is represented by Deputy Foreign Minister Ahmet Yıldız, who will speak in a panel titled “Shared Security, Common Strategies.” But the foreign ministers of all countries mentioned above have been granted individual addresses to the MED conference. If Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, EU Affairs Minister Ömer Çelik, or Energy Minister Berat Albayrak had been here, they probably would also have been able to get Turkey’s word heard more prominently. Yıldız is an experienced and able diplomat, and he has no problem in conveying messages, but in such conferences protocol is particularly important.
The absence of senior ministers is unlikely to be because nobody wants to hear from Turkey anymore. For example Fatma Şahin, the mayor of Gaziantep, which borders Syria, is also a panelist at the event, where she has been given the Minerva Award due to her and her municipality’s efforts in dealing with the refugee issue.
Imagine that while Turkey is still hosting some three million refugees, Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano said in the opening session that Italy plays the key role in the refugee crisis. They actually play an important role but it had to be balanced in the MED.
For example Lebanese President Michael Aoun got his voice heard in the middle of the Saudi Arabia-Iran rift and criticized the U.S.’s use of jihadists in Afghanistan, which sowed the seeds of Al-Qaeda and beyond.
On the other hand, the agenda of Turkish diplomacy and the agenda of the Mediterranean region, Europe and the rest of the world are seemingly drifting apart. Nowadays Turkish diplomacy is focused on two main issues. Or let’s say two and a half; half being the Reza Zarrab case in the U.S.
One of those two issues is countering the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) together with its Syria branch, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which is the U.S.’s partner there against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). The other one is countering the illegal network of the U.S.-resident Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen, who is accused of masterminding the military coup attempt in 2016 to oust the Turkish government and President Tayyip Erdoğan.
Both of those issues and the half are actually Turkey’s internal security problems, although they have international links.
It is not pleasant to be asked questions about the Zarrab case every time a person finds out that you are from Turkey.
Persistence in your thesis is one of the bases of diplomacy. But repeating the same rhetoric without adding any new bit of solid factor on that makes your counterparts weary of listening to you.
Carrying Turkey’s problems on to its foreign policy and letting it dominate the country’s diplomatic agenda is weakening the grounds of Turkish diplomacy, when looked from a distance.