By Javad Heirannia

Turkey likely to review ties with S. Arabia: Georgetown professor  

August 20, 2016 - 11:39

TEHRAN - Shireen Tahmaasb Hunter, a professor of political science at Georgetown University, tells the Tehran Times that Turkey might “reconsider its relations with some Arab states, including Saudi Arabia” in the wake of the failed July 15 coup. 

Hunter also says the visit of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Russia was a victory for Vladimir Putin as “Erdogan had to apologize for the dawning of Russian airplane and the killing of the pilot.”

Erdogan has criticized the West for what he viewed as tepid support after some military officers seized combat aircraft and fired on parliament and protesters, killing more than 250 people. 

During his visit to Russia on August 9 the Turkish leader repeatedly thanked Putin for his rapid offer of aid following the coup attempt. Erdogan also called for relations between the two countries to return “to their pre-crisis level, or even higher.”

However Hunter says, “It is very unlikely that Turkey will change its basic Western orientation.”

Following is the text the interview:

Q: President Erdogan has announced that he plans to make some changes in the Turkish foreign policy. What could be the changes?

A: It is very unlikely that Turkey will change its basic Western orientation. To do so would incur heavy economic and political costs for Turkey. Therefore, Turkey will remain a NATO member and will try to ease tensions with the U.S. and the EU which have resulted from the failed coup d'etat.
Meanwhile, Turkey will try --at least in the short term-- to reduce tensions with neighbors such as Iran and Iraq. It might also reconsider its relations with some Arab States, including Saudi Arabia. However, any dramatic departures from the past should not be expected. This is because Turkey's relations with its neighbors are affected by factors such as geography, history, sectarian affiliation and inter-state rivalry. For example, it is unlikely that in the long term Turkey will abandon its competition with Iran in the Middle East, Central Asia and the Caucasus.

“It is very unlikely that Turkey will change its basic Western orientation.”Q: What is the importance of President Erdogan’s visit to Russia? 

A: Erdogan's visit to Russia was made necessary by economic factors. Russia's willingness to put the past behind also had much to do with economic factors. Both countries suffered economically because of their dispute. However, the main winner was Putin as Erdogan had to apologize for the dawning of Russian airplane and the killing of the pilot. Russia showed that it is the greater power and that Turkey has to take this fact into account. 

Q: Can the Turkish-Russian rapprochement help resolve the Syrian crisis?

A: A Turkish-Russian rapprochement would not be sufficient to solve the Syrian crisis. Syrian opposition gets its money and volunteers from Arab countries. Therefore without their agreement a solution is unlikely. There is also the Western angle. In short the solution of the Syrian question requires some kind of agreement and compromise among all interested parties and not Russia and Turkey alone.

However, if Turkey changes its approach towards Syria and especially Assad, it could facilitate finding some solution.

“Syrian opposition gets its money and volunteers from Arab countries.”Q: In a policy shift Ankara is mostly focusing on the Middle East. Does this mean that Ankara has no hope to be a member of the EU?

A: Turkey's interest in the Middle East began soon after the Soviet Union's demise and deepened following the Persian Gulf War of 1991 and the later developments in the region such as the 2003 U.S. invasions of Iraq. It is partly the function of Turkey's geography which borders on the Middle Eastern countries such as Iraq, Syria, and Iran. In recent years Erdogan's ambitions to create the Ottoman Empire albeit in a different guise played a role. However, Turkey never gave up its ambition to become a member of the EU. However, developments within Turkey, including trends towards greater Islamization and authoritarianism, have undermined EU's desire to include Turkey. So the question is not whether Turkey still wants to join Europe. Rather the question is whether Europe will accept Turkey.

Q: What are the reasons behind the recent improvement in Tehran-Ankara relationship after the coup?

A: Turkey's domestic problems are the main reason for the recent improvement in relations with Iran and part of its strategy of reducing tensions with neighbors. However, so far this improvement has been mostly symbolic. Time will tell whether this improvement will last or as in the past will be followed with another period of tension. The fact is Turkey sees Iran as a competitor and many Turks do not like Iran.

JH/PA

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