Turkey’s exit from the Middle East ?

Turkey’s exit from the Middle East ?

The Middle East is passing through historic days with concerns that accumulated tension could spark unwanted developments in the region. Let’s briefly analyze them:

With the conclusion of NATO’s Chicago Summit, all eyes have now turned to the crucial meeting between the P5+1 and Iran over Tehran’s controversial atomic activities. After a brief meeting in Istanbul last month, the parties now will try to find an agreement on Iran’s 20 percent enriched uranium, a critical element for both civil and military use of nuclear energy. 

Just a day before the reunion in Baghdad, the chief of the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency announced that a deal with Iran on probing suspected work on nuclear weapons has been reached. Though it seems to be a positive signal on the eve of Wednesday’s meeting, Iran’s sincerity about an agreement will be tested during the crucial meeting.

Even at the outset, the differences of the two parties regarding the meeting can be observed. Iranian officials’ primary objective is to have international sanctions removed. The P5+1, however, are determined not to negotiate sanctions unless Iran takes a step forward and stops enriching the uranium. Handing over enriched uranium to a safe deposit could also be considered as part of confidence-building measures. 

The fact that the Iranian economy saw a historic decline in oil revenues since its traditional customers, including Turkey, Japan etc., reduced the amount of oil they purchase from Iran shows that the sanctions have begun to bite. (In addition, blockage of Iran’s Central Bank and some other banks has made money transfers nearly impossible in the last months.) 

Apart from economic and political consequences, Turkey’s joining the sanctions also has a psychological affect on Iran. It helped Iran realize that Turkey’s position has been drastically changed in the last few years, and it can’t consider its northern neighbor in its future tactical moves to gain more time. 

What makes this meeting very important is the fact that the international community assesses today and tomorrow’s talks as among last attempts to find a diplomatic solution to the problem. The failure of talks will surely add more problems to the entire Middle East, which has already been dealing with the Iraq and Syria crises. 

It’s true that Israel is losing patience, and there is growing concern about a unilateral Israeli strike against designated nuclear sites. (There are conflicting views on how the change in Israeli government could have an effect on military plans.)

Amid the sound and fury that dominates the entire region, Turkey’s policies will be crucially important in terms of this country’s peace and stability. Ankara, which has already forgotten its ambitious “zero-problems-with-neighbors” policy, has decided to side with the Western powers in solving regional problems. Siding with Iraqi Kurds against the Shiite Iraqi prime minister, hosting NATO’s radar on its soil against potential Iranian missiles and leading the international community to force Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down are clear indications in this end. For many, this policy of Ankara is signaling an exit from the Middle East, which it entered by refusing to join American occupation of Iraq in early 2004.