Turkey and Iran as partners for peace

Turkey and Iran as partners for peace

Iran’s agreement with Western powers over its nuclear program may be bad for Israel and Saudi Arabia, who turn out to be not just fellow-spoilers, but also strange bed-fellows in this equation. It is, however, good for the region and for the world.

It is also good for Turkey, of course, and there is no shortage of articles in the Turkish media referring to the economic advantages that will accrue in Turkey as a result of the easing of sanctions on Iran. There is, however, the political dimension too, which is perhaps equally, if not more, important at a time when the Middle East is in turmoil.

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu was in Tehran on Nov. 26 for a timely meeting with the Economic Cooperation Organization, and while there he lauded the nuclear agreement arrived at with Tehran. He went on to argue this accord will also enable Turkey and Iran to “join hands” in order to become “the backbone of regional stability.”

“At a place and time where some try to instigate sectarian conflicts, the dialogue between Iran and Turkey is the most important dialogue in the region,” Davutoğlu was quoted saying by agencies.

Needless to say, that dialogue will only produce results if Turkey and Iran overcome their own sectarian preferences that surfaced over Syria. It is no secret, at this stage, that Iran has been backing Shiite Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon who support the al-Assad regime, while Turkey has supported the Sunni opposition trying to topple that regime.

Davutoğlu’s remarks may nevertheless be a sign that the proxy war the two countries have been waging in Syria may be over. In fact the deal with Iran could signal a gradual end to all the proxy wars in Syria by outside powers, starting with the U.S. and Russia.

The two superpowers, which are also key members of the Security Council, are now cooperating on crucial regional issues from Syria to Iran. There is also the fact that the radical Islamist groups, which this crisis has attracted to the region, are now seen to be the common enemy, not just for the U.S. and Russia, but also the established regimes of the Middle East too.

The election of the moderate Hassan Rouhani as President in Iran, where the public is clearly fed up with international isolation, might prove to be the historic turning point in all this. Tehran’s moving away from radicalism can only be good for the greater Middle East.

Davutoğlu’s remarks in Tehran also show that Ankara wants to be seen as a key regional player once again, whose influence is stabilizing. It is more than apparent at this stage, however, that Turkey’s current position in the Middle East is a far cry from what it was before the “Arab Spring.”

Davutoğlu was boasting openly then that Turkey would be the principal game-setter without whose knowledge or approval a leaf could not move in the region. That bombastic flight of fancy has now been exposed for what it is.

It is highly apparent today Turkey is not a “game setter,” but a regional country that has been sidelined due to a series of mistakes resulting from the kind of arrogance embedded in Davutoglu’s remarks at the time. It is clear now that not everyone in the region was enamored by such remarks.

As matters stand, the past two years have provided a major learning curve for Ankara, showing just how much it really understands the Middle East, and how many of its assumptions were seriously out of touch with the realities that govern the region.

Turkey’s return to the region as a significant player will therefore be contingent on its recognizing this fact and developing its policies accordingly. The bottom line is Turkey has to show it harbors no leadership pretensions, which has proved to be alienating in what is a predominantly Arab world, but is merely seeking “partners in peace” in the Middle East. A moderate Iran could prove to be such a partner.