Proactive diplomacy or a sign of derailment?
Turkey will be hosting a key meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) today. Turks expect heads of state or government from at least 26 countries to attend, many at the level of foreign ministers. As the OIC’s term president, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan called the summit to discuss the “provocative” decision by U.S. President Donald Trump to recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, and decide on “further action than a classical condemnation.”
What might that “action” be? President Erdoğan vowed earlier that Turkey might even consider severing relations with Israel. Why? Israel’s position on Jerusalem has always been the same. It was the United States presidency who recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital out of ignorance, fully contradicting decisions by the United Nations. In a way, the U.S. move was a very serious blow to the prestige and very existence of the U.N. system and validity of the Security Council. If the rule of the powerful endure over the rule of international law, is there a need for the U.N. system?
Another very important diplomatic activity was the visit from Russian President Vladimir Putin. The two countries have made up and have apparently put the crisis of the downing of the Russian jet behind them. Recently, the Turkish president and his Russian counterpart came together eight times and have frequently been discussing global issues over the phone.
News of the withdrawal of Russian troops from Syria came when Turkey was preparing for Putin’s visit. Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu’s statement that the withdrawal was already underway was a surprise development for Ankara. The Russian leader was on a transit-summit with the Turkish leader on the way to a state trip to Egypt. Was Russia really withdrawing its troops from Syria? Was it meaningful to symbolically withdraw some troops but consolidate the Tartus and Hmeymim bases at the same time?
Contrary to claims of a Russian withdrawal, the perception in Ankara appeared to be one of a Russia settling firmly in the Middle East, militarily and politically. In a way, the persistently wrong policies and undertakings by the U.S. appear to be facilitating Russian advances in the region. Trump’s Jerusalem act might perhaps play a role as a facilitator in the acceleration of the Russian advance in the Middle East and North Africa. Putin’s one-day Ankara trip and visit to Cairo were particularly significant at a time when the region’s political and religious personalities were rebuffing offers of meeting with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence.
Remarks by the two leaders at a press conference at the end of the Russian leader’s lightning speed Ankara trip showed that despite repeated expressions of displeasure from Washington and other NATO capitals, Turkey is determined to go ahead with the S-400 procurement and a deal will be signed within a few days. What might the repercussions be? Was the question of “against which enemy is Turkey planning to use the S-400s systems?” that came from many NATO capitals really an exaggeration? Or, is there any validity to the worries regarding Turkish derailment?
The move on Jerusalem by Trump was like a rescue rope thrown for the Turkish president to get out of a grotesque and scandalous federal court case against a Turkish banker that has become a status-killing quicksand for the Turkish government. With growing anti-Americanism and anger over the Jerusalem act, the Turkish public have stopped the continuous discussion of revelations on the case and allegations of the defendant-turned key witness, Iranian-Turkish-Macedonian gold trader Reza Zarrab.