Turkey’s policy on Iran to continue despite Syria tension

Turkey’s policy on Iran to continue despite Syria tension

The best contribution the Arab Spring could have on Turkey’s foreign policy is that it might show the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) where Turkey and its neighbors stand on democracy and pluralism, which are key to a stable Middle East in which trade and properity can flourish.

The Arab Spring would show, it if has not already, that Turkey and its neighbors, Iran and Syria, stand worlds apart when it comes to the establishment of democratic regimes in the region.

While the AKP has burned most of the bridges with the Bashar al-Assad regime, it seems that its stance on Iran has not yet been affected. It is no secret that Turkey and Iran have a different approach toward the Arab Spring and especially on its effects on Syria. After Iraq and Afghanistan, Syria has become another regional issue where Ankara and Tehran follow diverging policies.

Turkey’s stance on Iran is becoming ever more interesting these days as there is renewed escalation over Iran’s controversial nuclear program.

News about a possible Israeli attack on Iran, triggered by the U.N. nuclear watchdog’s report due to be released this week, will turn eyes to Turkey, whose policies in the recent past have been in favor of Iran when it came to efforts to increase international pressure on Tehran.

Change in the offing?

Now that the regional rivalry between Turkey and Iran has intensified, will Turkey change its stance on Iran? Will it make Turkey happy to see that international pressure intensifying on the country, prompting fresh sanctions? Is a military strike on Iran the worst option as far as Turkey’s interests are concerned?

To think that Turkey’s stance on Iran’s nuclear program will change based on the assumption that the rivalry between the two has increased would be a mistake, a Turkish official told me – underlining, though, that the comment was his personal view.

At the end of the day, Turkey’s policy aims to persuade Iran to drop its plan to acquire nuclear weapons, while a neighbor with a nuclear weapon is the second worst-case scenario.

Turkey believes the reasons causing Iran to pursue nuclear weapons need to be eradicated and that this cannot be achieved through sanctions.

It looks like Turkey is not going to deviate from this stance, even if Iran’s role in the Arab Spring increasingly conflicts with Turkey’s interests. Or at least one can say that Iranian actions have not come to such a point of damaging Turkish interests that they would prompt Ankara to change its stance on the nuclear issue. After all, Turkish-Iranian history has been about avoiding open hostilities despite intense regional rivalry behind the scenes.

The question remains, however, whether Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu might once again aspire to play the role of facilitator to decrease the recent tension.

The realignment of Turkey’s policies with those of the Western bloc during the Arab Spring must have eased Western concerns that Turkey has been leaning too much in favor of Iran. Yet, does Davutoğlu believe he still has the trust of the Iranians and does he believe he still has influence over Iran due to his personal relations? Will he again consider the conditions appropriate enough to step in? This remains to be seen.