Turkey's worrisome approach to Iran, Israel
Ankara must be careful that its "zero problems" policy on its borders doesn't create new problems that alienate old friends.
Who knows what Turkey's prime minister may have said in private to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad about Iran's nuclear program this week. But on a visit to Tehran, the powerful and confident Turkish leader – he's offered to negotiate between Iran and the West – publicly defended his "friend" Iran.Skip to next paragraph
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Iran's nuclear energy program is "peaceful and humanitarian," insisted Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose country is a member of NATO. President Ahmadinejad returned the favor. He expressed appreciation for Mr. Erdogan's sustained and sharp criticism of Israel, which "undoubtedly made all nations happy."
Erdogan flew to Tehran to further Turkey's foreign policy of "zero problems" on its borders – and in search of business (a gas deal) that largely drives Ankara's good-neighbor policy. As an increasingly powerful nation at the strategic crossroads of Europe and Asia, democratic and Muslim Turkey sees itself as a peacemaker in the region.
Yet it must be careful that its zealous pursuit of zero problems doesn't actually create problems – particularly with its non-Muslim friends and allies.
Concerns about Turkey's allegiance to Western values and allies began to simmer when the mostly Muslim population of this secular state elected an Islamic party, the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, to power in 2002. Turkey's refusal to let the US use a military base in Turkey to invade Iraq in 2003 strained ties with Washington.
Still, Erdogan pushed economic reform that led to significant growth. And he continued with other reforms that eventually allowed Turkey to enter formal negotiations to join the European Union.
Meanwhile, Turkey's regional outreach has yielded so many results that they stand out like minarets in Istanbul. In recent years, Ankara has seriously improved relations with Greece, Syria, Iraq, Russia, Bulgaria, and the latest – Armenia – with which it shares a century-old dispute. Turkey has also acted as negotiator between Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as with Israel and Syria.