After years of deadlock in relations between Iran and the West, on the eve of a new round of negotiations it might be worthwhile taking a wider look at how other countries deal with their relations with Iran. Although Turkey does not have a formal role in the 5+1 negotiations reserved for the UK, US, Russia, China, France and Germany, its way of thinking vis-à-vis Iran is very interesting. As a neighbour to Iran, Turkey’s main objective is to avoid creating the atmosphere of threat and maintain the atmosphere of diplomacy. How does Turkey go about that?
First, instead of nourishing fear or anxiety, Turkey strongly supports negotiations and diplomatic effort. Turkey has the same goal as P5+1 – that is no nuclear weapons in Iran. However for Turkey, the dialogue is the only way to convince Iran that nuclear weapons are not in their own interest. Instead of relying on sanctions like the West does, Turkey continuously favours dialogue on equal footing. This may be worth considering since isolated countries often feel their unsecure situation demand building nuclear weapons.
Second, Turkey is one of the few countries that have been enjoying an uninterrupted contact with Iran. Since the country does not require entry visas for Iranians any longer, there is a continuous flow of tourists from Iran. Turkey received over 2 million Iranian tourists last year and around 4,000 Iranian companies have already established themselves in in the country. At the same time they have kept their diplomatic relations whereas many Western countries haven’t had embassies in Iran for decades. As a result, Turkey knows the situation on the ground much better than the US or the EU.
Third, Turkey has adopted a long term strategic perspective towards Iran. Although their relation has in the past years become much more difficult Turkey has not broken the diplomatic links and opted for a pragmatic approach.
There are two main reasons for why Turkish-Iranian relations are getting more strenuous: the missile defence system currently being deployed in Turkey, and the conflict in Syria. The change in relations was evident when Iran did not accept Istanbul as a place for discussions with P5+1 but chose Kazakhstan instead. But even with difficulties Turkey has followed its line of pragmatism.
Of course, Ankara has its own interests in mind. The Turkish government’s approach is easy to criticise since we all know the sanctions are not only hurting Iran but also Turkey, the second fastest growing economy in the world. Military action would destabilize Turkey as well as Iran and most likely the whole region. And while opposing nuclear weapons, Turkey is building nuclear power plants and is careful to underline the right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes. But even in this respect, the EU could learn something. If the common goal of the negotiating countries and all neighbours is Iran without nuclear weapons, why not give diplomacy a true try?
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