Iran deal highlights Turkey’s ‘precious loneliness’

Iran deal highlights Turkey’s ‘precious loneliness’

Why the deal worked out for Iran’s nuclear program in May 2010 by Turkey and Brazil was rejected by the U.S., and why the current deal worked out between the P5+1 group of nations and Iran is being celebrated as a major breakthrough for the world will remain a matter of academic discussion. 

Whatever the case maybe that is all history now. In the meantime, the world has changed significantly over these past five years, producing strange bed-fellows in the face of unexpected developments in the Middle East. The fact that Israel and Saudi Arabia are on the same page today with regard to Iran is a case in point. 

As to where Turkey stands today, this can be gleaned from what Patrick Seale, the Middle East expert, wrote after the Iran deal brokered by Turkey and Brazil in 2010.

Turkey, he said, “can claim a diplomatic triumph to add to its many foreign policy successes of the past year, engineered by Ahmet Davutoğlu [who was foreign minister then before becoming prime minister]. He has vastly improved relations with Syria, Iraq and Iran, as well as with a score of other countries in the Balkans, the Caucasus and Central Asia, boosting political and trade ties.” 

That was in 2010 before Turkey’s downward spiral in terms of its influence in the Middle East began and even Seale probably acknowledges today that his appraisals of then prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Davutoğlu were off the mark. Let alone having improved relations with Iran, we have an Erdoğan - who became president in the interim - who not so long ago accused Tehran of seeking hegemony in the region, which he said had to be prevented. 

Erdoğan uttered these remarks without thinking he would be visiting Tehran in a few days, and had to swallow his words in the end. But it is no secret that these two countries are rivals in their region today, where there is a sectarian based conflict with Iran on one side and Saudi Arabia on the other. It is an open secret as to where Ankara has stood in this conflict, although there are signs now, after that the Sunni and Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost its leading position place in Turkish politics in the election, of a change on the way in this regard.

Iran’s star is rising today and will make it a significant player in its region, where it has shared concerns with all the permanent members of the Security Council, as well as Germany, the preeminent European power. It is not for nothing that Russian President Vladimir Putin welcomed the Iran deal, saying it would also contribute to combatting terrorism in the Middle East, which means fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and al-Nusra. 

It is also significant that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Erdoğan’s nemesis, should have also welcomed the Iran deal, knowing that this will enhance Tehran’s position in its support of the Syrian regime, and increase the pressure for a political settlement to the Syrian crisis, which is what Washington and Moscow also want. If Ankara still believes a military solution to the crisis is possible, this deal probably put the last nail into that coffin.

All of this makes former president Abdullah Gül’s call just a few days ago, while Erdoğan was sitting in front of him, for Ankara to rapidly revise its Middle East and Arab policies along more realistic lines that much more significant. It must be clear to everyone at this stage that what AKP circles have been celebrating as Turkey’s “precious loneliness,” a euphemism to explain away Turkey’s current international isolation, ultimately means “precious little” given the bitter realities on the ground.

The bottom line is that Turkey was nowhere near the deal worked out with Iran, although it could have been at the center if it had it played its cards right after 2010. Instead of doing that it spun off in untenable directions, egged on by Erdoğan and Davutoğlu’s inflated sense of Turkey’s powers, and is struggling today to regain the ground it lost.