Turkey’s increasing cooperation with the two significant regional players was recently brought to the nation’s attention when Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu reiterated during his participation in the 49th Munich Security Conference that Turkey was pleased with Qatar and Saudi Arabia for taking the initiative in the Syrian crisis. The latest example of cooperation is two separate agreements signed with Qatar and Saudi Arabia -- two states strongly desiring the fall of the Syrian regime, along with Turkey -- regarding cooperation in the training of military personnel among the three countries.
Davutoğlu also suggested to the UN Security Council that the “5+1” group, which comprises China, Russia, France, the United States, the United Kingdom plus Germany, should be changed to 5+3 with the inclusion of Turkey and Saudi Arabia. He stressed that the change was particularly needed for the talks on Iran’s nuclear program as well as regional issues concerning Middle Eastern and African countries.
Although Turkey recently boosted ties with the two Arab states to contribute to the resolution of the Syrian crisis, foreign policy analysts believe that the country’s relations with Qatar and Saudi Arabia will continue to improve in the future. Stephen Larrabee, who holds the Distinguished Chair in European Security at the RAND Corporation, told Sunday’s Zaman that Turkey is expected to expand its relations with these countries in other sectors, especially in the energy field, adding that there was a “broadening coincidence of interests” among the three states.
Agreeing with Larrabee, Kamer Kasım, vice president of the Ankara-based International Strategic Research Organization (USAK), said Turkey should focus on strengthening economic relations with the two Gulf states in addition to cooperation on regional problems. Kasım recalled that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said during a Turkish-Hungarian business forum in Budapest last week that opportunities of investment were abundant in the Gulf Arab countries, and Erdoğan also called on his Hungarian counterpart, Viktor Orbán, to invest in the region. In line with Erdoğan’s remarks, Kasım believes that Turkey will seize investment opportunities while it continues to play a role -- along with Qatar and Saudi Arabia -- in putting pressure on the Western powers to take action in Syria.
While Turkey seeks to strengthen relations with the two Arab countries in many areas, according to Kasım, Saudi Arabia and Qatar require Turkey’s support for a military solution to the protracted civil war in Syria, along with that of the Western countries. Kasım says Turkey’s NATO membership and alliance with the West underlie Qatar and Saudi Arabia’s collaboration with Turkey in the Syrian crisis.
The UNSC has not offered a solution to the Syrian crisis as permanent members Russia and China vetoed the council’s resolutions in July 2012, which were designed to put pressure on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and halt the violence in the country.
‘5+3 proposal would complicate the negotiations process’
According to Larrabee, Davutoğlu’s 5+3 proposal to the UNSC would not receive much support from the current participants. “It [the proposal] would significantly complicate the negotiation and make achieving a consensus on a solution more difficult,” Larrabee added.
Iran may not accept the inclusion of Saudi Arabia and Turkey to the nuclear talks under the auspices of the UNSC, as Turkish relations have become strained with Iran as a result of the disagreement concerning the conflict in Syria, according to Kasım.
“However, if the 5+3 proposal is accepted, Turkey can play a major role in easing the tension between Iran and the Western powers,” Kasım said. Relations with Iran became strained after Iran came to the forefront as a staunch supporter of Bashar al-Assad’s regime, although the country gave partial support to the overthrowing of the other dictatorships in the region. Prior to disagreeing with Iran on the Syrian conflict, Turkey supported Iran by vetoing a UNSC resolution that imposed a fourth round of sanctions against the country due to its nuclear program in 2010.
Dr. Abdullah Alshammri, a foreign policy analyst and a former Saudi diplomat, also told Sunday’s Zaman that although Saudi Arabia appreciated the steps taken by Turkey to resolve regional problems, he did not think his country would join any efforts in regard to Iran’s nuclear program. Turkey’s improving relations with the two Sunni Arab states is often interpreted by commentators as the forming of a powerful Sunni bloc in the region. Larrabee, disagreeing with the observers who see Turkey’s increased cooperation as evidence that Turkish policy is acquiring a sharper sectarian edge, said, “I don’t think Turkey’s image will be damaged by increased cooperation with Qatar and Saudi Arabia.”
Kasım, claiming that the accusations of sectarianism are used to propagate ideas against Turkish foreign policy and its rising regional power, said Turkey should still try to dispel this perception. Pointing to a non-sectarian foreign policy, Kasım recalled Turkey’s good relations with Syria until 2010. “Turkey had developed close ties with Syria before the crisis in the country. The Turkey-Syria High-Level Strategic Cooperation Council and the lifting of visa procedures were among the steps taken between the two governments. Bashar al-Assad’s sect was the same in 2009, but Turkey did not find it inappropriate to cooperate with neighboring Syria at that time,” said Kasım.