Erdogan's Newsweek editorial & Turkish diplomacy

Thursday, January 20, 2011

It's a busy week for Turkish diplomats, whose activities in various directions throughout Turkey's Eurasian-Middle Eastern-Mediterranean neighborhood underscore the Erdogan government's ambitious plans for improving relations with (most of) its neighbors.

Here are a few of the things going on:

Turkey and Russia in final stages of removing visa restrictions upon one another's citizens.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said that visa agreement between Turkey and Russia would be signed in coming months.

The agreement will be signed during the High-level Cooperation Council meeting which will be held in Moscow in coming months, added Davutoglu who held a joint press conference with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Istanbul on Thursday.
The measure follows similar measures involving a number of Turkey's neighbors, including Serbia, Jordan, Syria and, most recently, Yemen.
Turkey is located in a pretty complex neighborhood

 In a related story, Turkish PM Erdogan has announced plans to visit Russia in the spring of 2011. 
Meanwhile, Qatari Prime Minister Hamad and Turkish FM Davutoglu leave Lebanon after talks over power-sharing in Beirut.
Both Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem bin Jabr al-Thani and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu left Beirut on Thursday heading back to their countries for further consultations with their leaderships.
In a press statement they issued from Beirut, the mediation parties announced the “halt of their efforts at this time due to some reservations regarding their initiative.”
Here's a piece on Turkey's ongoing role in carrying out talks with Iran over that country's nuclear program. This week, a new round of discussions over this issue are taking place in Istanbul, but as usual much of the discussion focuses upon Turkey's ambitions and what it means that Turkey seems interested in avoiding conflict--even if that means talking to, rather than simply threatening, Iran.
Turkish diplomats vehemently deny their country is turning away from the West. As a Nato member for more than half a century, Turkey has had a "long-standing orientation" towards the West, another Turkish diplomat said. "There is no conflict between that orientation and the vision to have good relations with neighbours."
Ankara does not want a nuclear-armed Iran, but is also anxious to avoid any military confrontation between the West and Tehran. Turkey concedes that "there are certain concerns" towards the Iranian programme, as the diplomat put it. But those concerns "should be eliminated to the satisfaction of all" parties involved. Turkey regards last year's uranium swap deal that was struck in Tehran as the best way forward and was "still on the table", the diplomat said.

And if the above isn't enough, Turkish diplomats are also meeting this week in Switzerland for ongoing talks over northern Cyprus.

A FLURRY of activity is underway both on the island and off in preparation for the two leaders meeting with the UN chief in Geneva next week.
President Demetris Christofias chaired a meeting of the National Council yesterday to update party leaders on the latest developments in the talks. UN Special Adviser Alexander Downer also met with Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu while today he is reportedly flying to Turkey to meet with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

What to make of all this? Turkey lives in a difficult neighborhood, and for decades a series of governments in Ankara neglected Turkey's relations with its neighbors in order to fight the Cold War. In the years immediately after the Cold War, Turkey--at American prompting--began playing a larger role in the "Turkic world" of the Caucasus and Central Asia, but still paid too little attention to ongoing difficulties with countries like Greece, Russia, Iran, and Syria.

Of course, relations with one important neighbor--Israel--are worse than ever (murdering a country's citizens will indeed harm relations). It's this combination of worse relations with Israel and better relations with traditional "bad guy" countries like Syria and Iran that has people freaked out and wondering if Turkey is "turning to the east." This is the so-called "neo-Ottoman" narrative.

I think this is silly, and have written a fair bit about it. Now I see that Turkish PM Tayyip Erdogan has himself discussed this issue (or else one of his staffers has done so in his name) in a recent editorial in Newsweek.

Turkey is becoming a global and regional player with its soft power. Turkey is rediscovering its neighborhood, one that had been overlooked for decades. It is following a proactive foreign policy stretching from the Balkans to the Middle East and the Caucasus. Turkey’s “zero-problem, limitless trade” policy with the countries of the wider region aims to create a haven of nondogmatic stability for all of us. We have visa-free travel with 61 countries. This is not a romantic neo-Ottomanism: It is realpolitik based on a new vision of the global order. And I believe that this vision will help the EU, too, in the next decade.
Anyone who has read through this blog knows that I criticize Erdogan all the time. But I do find it odd that people would find it suspicious that Erdogan's government would try to improve relations with its neighbors without asking permission from the United States first. Living in a neighborhood like Turkey's, establishing peaceful and respectful relations with one's neighbors seems like a wise thing to do. 

That might not make everybody happy, but it's nevertheless hard to see how establishing friendlier relations with neighbors will not be good for Turkey.  

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