Turkey Unsure of its Stance | Courting Iran and Saudi's at the same time
Turkey, current unsure of its stand, is courting bitter rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran to shore up its position in a region. Foreign policy experts say this new approach, which they consider to be a “work in progress,” has the potential to make Turkey an influential regional player again if it is allowed to mature.
Erdoğan, a devout Sunni who has broken with the Turkish republic’s secular tradition, is sympathetic to the Saudis in their rivalry with Shia Muslim Iran for regional power and influence. He recently criticised Tehran over its frequent use of the death penalty. But he made no such criticism of the Saudi regime when it executed a leading Shia Muslim cleric, Nimr al-Nimr, and 46 others in January.
Turkey remains unhappy, of course, about Tehran’s support for the Bashar al-Assad regime, while Iran is unhappy about Ankara’s support to anti-Assad groups in Syria.
In the limelight, Davutoglu surprised everyone with a visit to Tehran in early March, and the positive statements made there with regard to bilateral ties, was taken as an indication of Turkey’s desire to build bridges with Iran.
Speaking at a press conference in Tehran with Iran’s First Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri, Davutoglu skimmed over differences on Syria. “We may have differences over some issues, but we cannot change our history and geography,” Davutoglu said, adding that Turkey and Iran were complementary pieces of a puzzle.
Underlining the contribution the two countries were in a position to make to overcome sectarian divisions in the region, Davutoglu said it was important for the two countries to develop joint perspectives in this regard. “We cannot leave the fate of our region to external actors who are not from the region,” he said.
“Iran and Turkey have common objectives and interests and must strengthen the foundations for peace and stability in the region through [improving] bilateral cooperation and focusing on the fight against terrorism as a common enemy,” Rouhani said during his meeting with Davutoglu.
While in Tehran, Davutoglu expressed Turkey’s “delight” that sanctions against Iran had been lifted, saying, “These were the greatest barrier to the volume of trade between the two countries reaching $30 billion.” Tellingly, he recalled that “Turkey has stood by Iran during the most difficult days of the sanctions.”
Turkey and Saudi Arabia
Turkey remains disgruntled about Saudi Arabia’s support for Egypt’s Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who is criticized by Ankara for relentlessly pursuing members of the Muslim Brotherhood. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu have a personal affinity for members of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Salman’s visit to Ankara follows up on Erdogan’s “icebreaking” visit to Riyadh in December, which took place only a month after Erdogan attended the funeral of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz.
Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud arrived in Ankara April 11 against this backdrop, with a large entourage of aides, for two days of talks with Erdogan and Davutoglu on regional issues, with the focus expected to be mostly on Syria.
Diplomats have noted the relative improvement in ties after Salman came to power. Officials in Ankara also say they detect signs of a new approach by Riyadh toward the Muslim Brotherhood after Abdullah’s death.
Following Erdogan’s visit to Riyadh, there was much talk about a “Sunni alliance” between the two countries, especially with regard to Syria.
Developing ties with Riyadh gives Ankara an important partner in the Middle East and helps it not only overcome its regional isolation, but to also reinforce its hand in Syria and Iraq.
Conversely, ties with Ankara provides Riyadh with an important regional and predominantly Sunni partner at a time when it is in deep rivalry with Iran.
This is said to be particularly important for the Saudi side because it feels it has lost ground against Iran following Tehran’s rapprochement with Washington.
Turkey and EU
Like King Salman, Erdoğan is under fire from European and American politicians and pressure groups for his authoritarian behaviour and widespread human and civil rights abuses. Erdoğan, in turn, regularly accuses the EU of irresponsibly blaming its refugee problems on Turkey. Both leaders are critical of what they see as weak American leadership, not least because of last year’s nuclear compromise between Washington and Tehran. As a result, both appear to be backing away from traditional western allies.
Erdoğan wants Morsi’s death sentence commuted. Bringing together these two major Sunni powers is a key Saudi strategic aim.
Turkish analysts suggest a closer military, investment and trade relationship with Saudi Arabia could fuel Erdoğan’s neo-Islamism, his undemocratic behaviour and his defiance of the EU and the west as he seeks to create an executive presidency.
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