Iran highlights ’reactive,’ Not ’proactive’ Turkey

Addressing the Foreign Affairs Committee in Parliament for the first time since he assumed office, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu was reported by the press as saying on Wednesday: "Draw a circle and put Turkey in the center.

Anything that happens a thousand kilometers away from us concerns us."

This of course fits with the grand vision that Davutoğlu has for Turkey as a major player, not just regionally but also globally. In addition to this Davutoğlu has of course been billed as a "Middle East expert," a designation that he too is fond of.

But, events in Iran force us to question these two assumptions. Let alone a thousand kilometers away, we are left wondering how concerned Turkey was with its next door neighbor Iran, given its mixed response to the events there.

Put another way, we are left wondering whether Ankara was following developments there as closely as it should have been, because if it had been, it should have foreseen the potential for a political crisis that would interest the whole of the international community. What makes it more surprising is the fact that Davutoğlu is said to be an expert on Middle Eastern affairs.

Iran on the other hand is a country that Ankara should be following the closest, not just because it is a source of international tension on our borders, but because anything major that happens in that country has always had spillover effects for Turkey.

The thing that makes us, and many diplomats in Ankara, question Turkey’s stance here is the immediate and almost knee-jerk response it had to the outcome of the elections in Iran, even though it became clear only hours after the announcement of the results that there would be trouble on the streets.

Overlooking the very serious potential for disturbances Ğ most likely because they were not aware of it, or underestimated it Ğ both President Abdullah Gül and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, immediately congratulated Ahmedinejad over the phone and wished him well during his second term.

In the meantime, the Foreign Ministry remained silent for days on end as events of world importance in Iran began to unfold, and it became increasingly uncertain where all of this would lead. History has shown that such developments can end up taking unexpected turns, which makes it doubly important that they are followed closely.

The hurried congratulatory messages sent to Ahmadinejad are interesting for another reason. Turkey is known for its excessive caution in its statements about matters of international importance. It usually prefers to listen to what other are saying, and then finds a middle road for itself in the statement it makes on the particular topic in hand.

Preference for Ahmadinejad?

This sense of caution was, however, noticeably lacking in the warm messages from President Gül and Prime Minister Erdoğan to Ahmadinejad .

One would have expected Foreign Minister Davutoglu to advise the president and the prime Minister to take such a line.

Some analysts suggest that what was in fact happening in Ankara was a subconscious preference for Ahmadinejad , given the ruling Justice and Development Party’s, or AKP, Islamic leanings.

Put another way, it is suggested that the same tendency that pushes the AKP close to Hamas and the regime in Sudan, and which forced Prime Minister Erdoğan to explode against Israeli President Shimon Peres in Davos, was in operation here.

If this line of argumentation is indeed true, then there is a serious contradiction vis-a-vis Davutoğlu’s vision for Turkey as a grand regional player.

The reason is that a country with such a large pretension has to not only develop its grand strategy on the basis of a host of likely scenarios, but in doing so it has to also maintain a strong element of impartiality.

The fact that the AKP administration is struggling in terms of the second of these, namely impartiality, is already seen from reports in influential Israeli papers which are now indicating that Prime Minister Netanyahu does not want Turkey to mediate between Israel and Syria.

The reason is said to be the AKP’s pro Hamas and anti-Israeli stance, a position that came to a head in Davos.

Turkey did of course issue an official statement on Iran eventually.

This came Wednesday and had a different tone to the initial warm congratulatory messages sent to Ahmadinejad .

In his statement, Foreign Ministry spokesman Burak Ozugergin expressed Ankara’s desire that "the channels for seeking rights remain open in Iran."

He also said that Turkey has confidence in Iran’s ability to find solutions to its internal debates by means of these channels.

Ozugergin went on to add Ankara’s desire that the present events will contribute to the development of democratic institutions and rules in Iran.

These are, of course, diplomatically phrased remarks of caution to the regime in Teheran to refrain from anti-democratic actions. The fact that the regime in Iran is going precisely the way of anti-democratic actions, however Ğ with police brutality, censoring of the media, and attempting to find foreign scapegoats for the troubles Ğ makes in unlikely that Tehran will be too pleased with this statement from Ankara.

This statement has nevertheless shown that Ankara, which is claiming a place for itself as an important regional player, remains reactive rather than proactive in the face of major events.
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