Turkey and Obama's difference on Iran deal

Turkey and Obama's difference on Iran deal

The deal reached between Iran and the major world powers over Iran’s nuclear program on July 14 is a historical breakthrough which has the potential to change political and economic balances not only in the Middle East but also in Central Asia and the Caucasus.

In return for opening up its nuclear program for international inspections, Iran got a promise from the P5+1 (the U.S., Russia, China, the UK and France, as the permanent U.N. Security Council members, and Germany, which is also called E3+EU3) countries for a gradual lifting of the economic and military sanctions imposed upon it, which have been practically in effect since the Islamic Revolution in 1979. This in a way is the start of Iran’s return to mainstream international politics.

There have been many initiatives in the past which failed at the last minute, like the one in 2009-2010 in which Turkey and Brazil were the facilitators. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said he was happy because of the deal, which would certainly help peace and stability in the region, but it was impossible to miss the feeling an opportunity was wasted earlier, since he had to mention the failed attempt when he was the foreign minister.

What made it real this time is the political will of two leaders, Barack Obama of the U.S. and Hassan Rouhani of Iran, to solve the problem through direct talks without anyone going in between.

When Rouhani got elected in Iran as the voice of those who wanted to change Iran’s isolation from the world in August 2013, Obama felt an opportunity was there and contacted Rouhani during his first visit to the U.S. for the U.N. General Assembly meetings. The next month he called him up, marking the highest level of direct contact since 1979. Then the diplomacy started to unfold.

Turkey’s strategic importance regarding the Western alliance NATO had increased after the strategic crash of 1979, which saw the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Islamic Revolution in Iran and the coup d’état in Iraq by Saddam Hussein. The coup in Turkey the next year distanced the country from Europe in political and economic terms, though nothing changed security-wise.

Iran’s return to mainstream international politics would boost trade and the economy in the region, which could in turn open up new opportunities for Turkey and Turkish companies, but it would also push forward Turkey’s historical rival in regional politics, a competition which has been going on for centuries. It is a cliché, but the oldest land border on earth is the one between Iran and Turkey, which was drawn in 1639. It is not a coincidence that in his first response to the deal, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said he hoped Iran would now contribute positively to the conflict in Syria after welcoming the deal; Tehran is the main supporter of the Bashar al-Assad regime in the civil war hit Syria, together with Russia.

Iran is another example, and a big example, of Obama’s policy to make a real difference in world politics before leaving office. His move towards Cuba saw the U.S. plan to open up an embassy in Havana after 56 years. It would not be a surprise if the U.S. Embassy in Tehran is opened soon; the information about a race among American diplomats for that prestigious post has already hit the diplomatic backstage. Vietnam, from which the U.S. was ousted through a bloody guerilla war, is already an economic partner in the Pacific region.

This is a successful line of diplomacy.

The ten-point question is the Palestine-Israel conflict. Could the Obama initiative carried out personally by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry succeed following the Iran deal? Or will that further antagonize nationalist Israeli politics?

And there are a number of five-point questions, like the Turkish-Greek one in Cyprus, the Azerbaijan-Armenia one over the Ngorno Karabakh; Cyprus looks closest to a solution.

But there is little to predict about the ongoing terrorism-infected civil wars in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan; it seems they need something more than diplomacy.