Saturday, April 24, 2010

Turkey Rising?

Unofficial Turkish emblem (This is not the Tur...Image via Wikipedia
The Turkish Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, has been quite busy of in the past month, meeting with the Foreign Ministers of Azerbaijan, the EU, Brazil, Serbia, Bosnia and NATO ministers, and has met with some success in getting what Turkey feels is in its interests. 

For example, after what by all accounts was a difficult dinner in Tallinn, Davutoğlu managed to win over enough NATO members, to get NATO MAP (Membership Action Plan) status for Bosnia.  Although this is part of Turkey's well know efforts to achieve reconciliation in the Balkans, an old stomping ground, it also shows that despite the brush-off and broken promises from certain EU members regarding accession, Turkey is in Europe.

As part of Turkey's Balkan reconciliation effort, Davutoğlu also met with the foreign ministers of Serbia and Spain.  Serbia, of course, is not happy about Bosnia's proposed NATO membership.  However,  Davutoğlu's meetings with Spain and Serbia are also meant to advance Serbia's integration efforts into the EU and NATO. As if that was not enough, a future meeting in Istanbul will involve a presidential summit among Turkey, Serbia and Bosnia.

Perhaps the EU needs to take another look at its tactics regarding Turkish membership and Turkey in general - because Turkey is a European power now whether they like it or not.

The riskiest venture though is Turkey's attempts, with Brazil, to negotiate some sort of fuel swap deal with Tehran.

Last week Davutoğlu met with Catherine Ashton, the EU Foreign Minister, to review his earlier talks in Tehran regarding the fuel swap negotiations. Brazil's Foreign Minister is flying to Tehran soon to continue the pursuit of a deal.  So, what happens if Turkey and Brazil do come up with a deal?  I'm very skeptical that the deal can be brokered given the current rhetoric flowing out ofTehran.  However, assuming that the talks succeed, then then sanctions would be off the table at the UN where they are scheduled to be raised in June when France chairs the Security Council. A deal would be embarrassing for the US and Tehran.  The US has been pushing hard for sanctions and Tehran has been its usual strutting self.  At the end of the day, the US can get over the embarrassment because a solution would be a vindication of its Iran policy.  Tehran not so much. Which is why I am not convinced the negotiations have any chance of success.

The fact is, Turkey and Iran are not strategic partners and both have geo-political aims for dominance in the Middle East.  Iran has a military budget the size of Finland's and is an economic mess. Turkey is a major military and economic power that just happens to anchor NATO in the east. For Tehran to agree to a fuel swap would deliver a huge diplomatic plum to Turkey, enhance its prestige and allow it to reach deep into a region in which Iran would like to compete and control.  The deal won't happen without some intense bargaining.

There is a downside risk for Turkey in its attempt to work with Iran.  Failure to broker this deal will tarnish Turkey's image as a regional leader.  It has been unable to arrive at a successful solution among Israel, Syria and the Palestinians and is already seen in the West as being just a little too supportive of Iranian ambitions. Failure to move Iran to accept a fuel swap deal acceptable to the West will put Ankara in an awkward position when sanctions come to a vote in the UN in two months time where it will likely abstain.
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