Sanctions shifting from Iran to Turkey?

Sanctions shifting from Iran to Turkey?

Let’s try to name the winter of our discontent in Ankara. With the Geneva interim agreement, we were able to see a change in the regional landscape by way of a partial respite from sanctions. A U.S.-Iran deal might lift sanctions from the region while Turkey’s potential long-range air defense deal with China could bring them back. 

It is good for our neighborhood for the sanctions on Iran to be lifted – it would be bad however, to see sanctions imposed on Turkish companies. It is as if the U.S. needed to maintain a set number and level of sanctions in our neighborhood at all cost. I have to confess that I have difficulty in understanding the benefits. The whole thing is more like an improvisation act getting out of hand then a full-fledged strategy. It simply possesses a downside risk. Iran did not have the chance to negotiate a position, as it had no ties to the U.S. until now. It is definitely different in Turkey’s case. 

June 2013 seems to be a major landmark. So much has changed since then, and what a drastic change it was! I am not only talking about the long-lasting impact of the Gezi Park events in the minds of policy makers in Ankara. June was also when Iranian elections brought victory to the reformist candidate Hassan Rouhani. Then the coup in Egypt toppled their democratically elected, but highly incompetent president. A totally Egyptian internal affair, no doubt, but it took its toll on the psyche of our policymakers in Ankara. So many things have happened since June. This, I presume, is the context in which the long-range missile story comes into play. 

Turkey announced that it was considering awarding a Chinese company a $4 billion defense contract to help Turkey develop a long-range air and missile defense system. The decision was taken by the Turkish Undersecretariat for Defense Industries’ Executive Committee in September. Turkey was officially saying that it was considering Chinese long-range FD-2000 missiles over U.S. Patriots., French-Italian Eurosam Samp-T and Russian S-400s. That was a surprise to many, and definitely a snub to U.S. policy as it freshly sanctioned China Precision Machinery Export Import Corporation (CPMEIC), the company in question, this February, for the company’s deals in Pakistan, North Korea, Syria and Iran. Turkey already had a short-range missile deal with China back in the late 1990s. The generals who took the decision were later jailed for alleged coup plots. Bad karma, I’d say. Regardless, this long-range system appears to be a different issue. If you ask me to name two non-negotiable policy issues for the U.S.’s foreign policy program, I would say that they would be nuclear weapons and long-range missiles. Now, the interim result of Geneva P5+1 was one giant step for the removal of the WMD threat from our region. The China deal can easily be considered as the return of the same threat. Iran removed the threat, Turkey put it back in. 

Why is Turkey doing this? Is it to make its foreign policy more independent? I do not think so. This can only bring new dependencies. Look at how Turkey is speaking out for the Muslim Rohingya people in Myanmar but remaining silent over the Uygur Turks in East Turkestan under China. So let’s drop this.
Secondly, Turkey does not have a long-range air and missile defense system of its own. We are a steadfast member of NATO and our Democratic transition started with our accession in 1952. When the Syrian crisis heated up, NATO deployed patriot systems in Turkey to defend the country against a Syrian attack. Rumor is that Turkey would like a joint production option to be included in the deal. So whether the China deal is just a bargaining chip or not remains to be seen. It all looks like improvisation to me. So there should be a third reason, unknown to us. We might now have to live through a period of early sanction overtures. Ready for the impact?