Iran and Turkey Are Not Regional Competitors

27 January 2010 | 18:37 Code : 6522 General category
There is no neo-Ottoman agenda in Turkey’s diplomacy. Interview with Jochen Hippler
Iran and Turkey Are Not Regional Competitors
Recently you have focused your studies on the new Turkey, its diplomacy and the Turkish society. My first question is that what is the quality of the new Turkey’s, I mean Erdogan’s Turkey, ties with the Arab League and the Arab World? We see that Turkey is trying to exert direct influence on the foreign policy of the Arab World and has entered into free trade agreements with Arabs, especially Persian Gulf states. These are all signs that Turkey has adopted a new approach in its diplomacy. What do you think?

I think we need to further focus on Turkey’s foreign relations. I have visited several Arab countries and studied their behavior closely. Their relations with Turkey are quite interesting. Arab countries believe that closer ties with a Muslim country like Turkey are beneficial and affect their relations with Europe in a positive way. Of course, I think Turkey’s diplomatic trait is not something that belongs to this century. There are many reasons for extensive relations between Turkey and Arab countries.

Do you agree with the new diplomatic approach of Turkey represented by Ahmet Davutoglu? Is he really trying to introduce a new approach in Turkey’s diplomacy? The one that is sometimes dubbed the neo-Ottoman policy.

I think rather than being a feasible idea, it is more ideological. Revival of the Ottoman influence does not sound realistic. Also, I don’t believe that Turkey’s diplomacy can move in that way. Many Turkish politicians prefer to change, just as the neighboring countries have changed. But the neo-Ottoman policy belongs to the 19th century and can’t be beneficial for this age. It is just an ideological motto and it won’t find a place in the Turkish diplomacy.

What do you think of the regional competition between Iran and Turkey? Just as Turkey, Iran is trying to influence the domestic and foreign policies of Arab countries. Many observers believe that there is a competition going on between Iran and Turkey to add more Arab countries to their camp. Do you agree with these observers?

Not that much. I think there are two counter-arguments for such analyses. First of all, Iran is trying to find and integrate exceptions in the Arab World. It is following this policy in Lebanon, has relations with some Iraqi groups with this aim and also tries to exert its influence on Palestinian groups such as Hamas. The Arab World is looking at such efforts with suspicion. Arab countries think that Iran is trying to promote its ideology between Arab countries and revive its ancient influence over Arabs.

So I think that Iran’s policy contradicts that of Turkey and this gives Turkey the upper hand. For Turks, ancient past is history and can’t be developed anymore. Also, there is more sympathy between some Arab countries and Turkey. Religious factors –I mean the Shiite-Sunni issue- can bring Turkey and Arabs closer. So against Turkey, Iran doesn’t have so many opportunities.

On the other hand, Turkey’s chances aren’t that much better. Although Turkey’s position among the Arab countries is better than Iran, we cannot blow it out of proportion. I think that for Turkey, it is more important to attract Arab and Muslim countries and spearhead their ties with the United States and West. This can be an advantage for Turkey. Arabs have oil and Turkey has technology which comes from West, especially the United States. Arab countries need that technology. Through Turkey, they can export their products to the European Union. Strong ties with EU can help Turkey in its interaction with Arab countries.

In my opinion, this is the policy Turkey is following right now. Look at the quality of its relations with Syria, Egypt, Lebanon or even Jordan. So for those reasons, Turkey can outperform Iran in its ties with Arab countries. Compared with Iran, it can be a better diplomatic leader for Arab countries. Iran’s chances are lower. So I don’t think talks about regional competition between Iran and Turkey are realistic.

What do you think of Turkey’s impact on some regional issues such as Iran’s nuclear program, Iraq’s policies and the Arab-Israeli relations?

Turkey can play a crucial yet limited role in those cases. On Iraq, I think Turkey prefers Iran to play the key role. Turks have always faced a big challenge in Iraq which is about their borders. Kurdish groups such as PKK have caused great problems for Turkey. So the Turks prefer to leave the case to Iran whose presence in Iraq raises less sensitivity. Iran’s presence in Iraq is much stronger and that can be more beneficial for Turkey, since it helps it to tackle the Kurdish problem in its border with Iraq.

But we saw that Turkey had a critical role in resolving the tension between Iraq and Syria after the recent bombings in Baghdad.

I agree with you. But Turkey’s policy is based on stability when tensions rise between Iraq and Syria. Turkey tries to keep the balance in its foreign strategy. This is the policy Turkey is following also with many Arab countries. I even want to say that Turkey adopts the same pattern in its relations with Western countries such as France and Germany, since it is this policy that opens new doors to diplomacy and servers its interests.

In it ties with countries such as Syria which has warm relations with Iran and also with some Palestinian groups, Turkey tries to maintain its ties at a certain level and advance its interests through this opening. In its foreign policy, Turkey sometimes decides not to play the key role but complement the efforts of other countries such as Iran.

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