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Turkey's work on Iran nuclear deal shows emerging diplomatic power

While the US has continued to press for UN Security Council sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program, Turkey's high-profile role in brokering a nuclear deal with Tehran is just the latest sign of an emerging diplomatic power.

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Turkey’s increasing diplomatic clout is partly due to the opportunity of its location – a crossroads for centuries between East and West, and North and South, for people, ideas, trade, and now energy routes.

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Another impetus might be Turkey's repeatedly rebuffed attempts to join the European Union, says Fen Osler Hampson, an international affairs specialist at Carleton University in Ottawa.

“It’s a way to show the public there are other things this government can do to stand tall,” says Mr. Hampson. With years of expanding economic growth, Turkey is the “new tiger of Europe. It underscores a sense of dynamism and confidence…. They are looking beyond the region.”

Hampson notes that when President Abdullah Gul traveled in March to Cameroon and Congo, he took with him an entourage of some 140 businessmen, exemplars of how Turkey-Africa trade has jumped from $1.5 billion in 2001 to more than $10 billion last year.

“Nature abhors a vacuum, and we’re seeing a real vacuum in world politics, and countries like Turkey can do it,” adds Hampson.

'Higher standards' of foreign policy?

Davutoglu is a tireless proponent of what he calls Turkey’s “higher standards” of foreign policy.

The pace of Turkey's diplomatic engagement is frenetic. The Iran nuclear deal came after a week which saw a visit to Turkey by Syrian President Bashir al-Assad. Then Russian President Dmitry Medvedev was in town to agree on a number of big-ticket energy deals, including the purchase of Turkey’s first nuclear power reactor.

After that, a host of top Turkish leaders were in Greece – a traditional regional rival – signing 21 separate agreements between nations that had inked just 35 agreements between them since the 1920s.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan took along 10 ministers and 100 businessmen, held a joint cabinet meeting in Athens, and declared a turning point in Greece-Turkey relations.

Turkey has also been deeply engaged with Bosnia and Serbia, keeps pushing for EU membership, and later this week will host UN meetings on Somalia and on supporting Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon will be in Turkey. There will be a Turkish-Arabic forum.

Davutoglu told last weekend's diplomatic conference that Turkey is "running, because history is running," adding that Turkey had jumped from the 26th to the 16th biggest economy in the world, giving it extra clout.