Turkey Offers to Negotiate with Iran

In another show of Turkey emerging as a Middle East power broker, the country reiterated its offer on Tuesday to act as a diplomatic middleman toward Iran.

“The solution for Iran’s nuclear program is through negotiations and the diplomatic process,” stressed Ahmet Davutoğlu, Turkey’s foreign minister, during a press conference in Tehran.

Turkey, which has resisted an American-orchestrated push for a renewed round of sanctions against Iran, “is ready to act as an intermediary in the issue of uranium exchange,” said Davutoglu, “and hopes to have a fruitful role in this.”

The US State Department declared on Monday that it is still interested in a nuclear fuel agreement with Iran but talks have deadlocked over the country’s insistence that it hand over only enriched uranium stocks as the fuel is supplied, and that the exchange take place on its own soil.

Turkey, which currently sits on the United Nations Security Council, is not alone in opposing further sanctions against Iran. Notably, American secretary of state Hillary Clinton returned empty handed from Brazil last month where she tried to gather support. China and Russia, which both have veto power in the Council, are as of yet undecided on the issue, although Beijing recently instructed its diplomats to work with their American counterparts in New York to come to an arrangement.

Turkey’s offer to mediate may carry greater weight however. It has cautiously developed a working relationship with Syria in recent years while building a strategic partnership with Russia. These two states may be counted among Iran’s few, lukewarm friends. Combined they, rather than China, should be able to get Iran to come to the table.

Turkey and Russia, Sitting In a Tree

Europe may be reluctant to embrace Turkey but the country is well underway to establishing itself as a regional power. As a gateway to the West, it engages with nearby Middle Eastern states, signing free-trade agreements with Egypt, Israel, Morocco and Tunisia. It is currently in negotiations with the Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia, to make similar arrangements, as it is with Syria. There is even hope that the newfound closeness with secular, moderate Turkey represents a move away from Syria’s controversial alliance with Iran.

Now Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is working on building a strategic partnership with Russia.

The two countries intend to boost their respective trade volumes over the coming years to a grand total of $100 billion. “Our relations are developing and becoming more diversified in the political, military, economic and cultural spheres,” according to Erdoğan. “What is exciting for me is that both sides have a positive will,” he said at a joint press conference with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, last Wednesday.

The two leaders announced that they will abolish visa requirements for nationals traveling between Turkey and Russia. A final deal is expected to be worked out when President Dmitri Medvedev visits Turkey next May or June. A strategic coperation council meeting will be held at the time. Turkey has launched similar platforms with Syria and Iraq in 2009.

Erdoğan and Putin also discussed energy; specifically, the construction of Ankara’s first nuclear power plant. Russian firms will probably be given a chance to bid for the contract.

All in all, it would appear that Turkey isn’t waiting for Europe anymore. Contrary to European perceptions, Arabs regard Turkey as the closest thing to modernity around. As much as the country is a gateway to the West to them, it can be Europe’s arch to the East and a viable partner in relations with Russia. The EU ought to treat Turkey as the regional power it is therefore.

Gateway to the West

Turkey, or in the past the Ottoman Empire, has always been something of a bridge between Europe and the Near East. In recent years, it increasingly turned its attention westward, joining NATO and hoping, some day, to become part of the European Union. Decades of promises and negotiations have left the country frustrated with Europe however so now, according to The Economist, the Turks are back in the Middle East, “in the benign guise of traders and diplomats.” Read more “Gateway to the West”