A joint report by a Washington, D.C.-based think tank and a Turkish Foreign Ministry research center released on Tuesday suggests that relations between Turkey and the US may be strained over disagreement in Syria and Iraq, but convergence on Iran is on the rise.
The report, prepared by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and Turkish Foreign Ministry's Center for Strategic Studies (SAM), asserts that since the advent of the Arab Spring, the US refers increasingly to the Turkish “model,” a word that Turkey refrains from endorsing.
Written under the supervision of Dr. Bülent Alirıza and Professor Bülent Aras, from CSIS and SAM respectively, the report states that “the United States and Turkey have endeavored to cooperate as much as possible in dealing with the Syrian crisis. However, despite mutual interests, shared principles and goals, and increased joint operational and intelligence support to the opposition, us-turkish cooperation on Syria has not been effective from Ankara's perspective.”
Referring to Turkey's increasingly vocal reaction to “the financial, human and diplomatic costs of the conflict” in Syria, the report says, “Ankara has repeatedly made clear dealing with the Syrian crisis alone is beyond its own capabilities.” Moreover, the report admits “a very real reluctance on the part of Washington to provide greater backing for the Syrian opposition due to the presence of what it considers to be potentially hostile radicals in its ranks.” The writers of the report perceive this as paradoxical, with the potential result of “forcing the opposition in its desperate struggle to look elsewhere not only for arms, but also for additional volunteers from the extremist fringe.”
As the report argues, “Even more importantly, [the US approach] has led Ankara to question the scope and depth of US-Turkish cooperation, which has seen its limitations exposed in the face of a challenge to the entire Arab Spring process.”
As far as relations over the issue of Iraq since 2003 are concerned, although the report says that both nations desired the same outcome of the territorial integrity of Iraq, “there have been important differences between Turkey and the US on the roles of ethnic and sectarian groups during this process.” The US, it states, has backed Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, “despite his authoritarian tendencies and close relations with Iran.” On the other hand, “Turkey has supported the Sunni and Shia opponents of Maliki and expressed concern about the growth of Iranian influence in Iraq.”
In terms of relations between Turkey and Iraq, the CSIS-SAM report comments, “Differences between Turkish and Iraqi leaders during the Arab Spring, especially in Syria, coupled with ongoing disputes over Northern Iraq, have caused a further deterioration in the relationship between Ankara and Baghdad.”
Clearly, the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) constitutes another important element in the trilateral Turkey-USA-Iraq relationship. The report reads, “Although the United States is pleased with improved relations between Ankara and the KRG, it has nonetheless been concerned about the impact of Turkish-Iraqi Kurdish initiatives on the difficult relationship between Baghdad and the KRG.” This, it states, is mainly due to clashes in the economic interests between the parties.
According to the report, “the competing regional visions of the United States and Iran have also presented a challenge for US-Turkish relations,” at a time when Turkey voted against US-backed sanctions at the UN Security Council, in 2010. However, the report reads, “Ankara [has come] increasingly to perceive Iran as the leader of an emerging de facto Shia front seeking to curb Turkish influence in the Middle East,” particularly after Iran “resumed previous support for the PKK [Kurdistan Workers' Party] and began to give increased backing to the Syrian regime as it suppressed its opponents with brutal force.”
Therefore, it concludes, while the US and Turkey seem to converge less on problems in Turkey's neighbors Syria and Iraq, when it comes to Turkey's third southern neighbor, Iran, consensus is on the rise.