Turkey will be another Iran


Foreign policy: emphasis on Turkish independence

It should come as no surprise that the Turkish Prime Minister made his first trip abroad, not to the West, but to Iran and some of the central powers of Asia, some of them Islamic, with growing economic importance (Pakistan, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia). Erbakan has never made a secret of the fact that he prefers good and close political connections with important Islamic "brother states" to Turkey's strong ties to the West.

As a pramatiker, however, he also knows that Turkey cannot forego relations with the West for a long time for economic and political reasons. In addition, for success in the coalition, he is dependent on the benevolence of the predominantly western-oriented circles of the Turkish elite and the military leadership.

He took this insight into account soon after he took office when he ensured that, against initial resistance, with the help of his parliamentary group in the Turkish parliament, a five-month extension of the Allied surveillance flights from the Turkish Air Force Base Incirlik in the northern Iraqi protection zone was made possible. In the past, the RP had always been one of the most resolute critics of "Operation Provide Comfort" (OPC), which was initiated primarily by the USA. It has been used to protect the northern Iraqi Kurds from access by Sadam Hussein since March 1991. However, recent developments in Northern Iraq make it unlikely that the campaign will continue. This could free Erbakan from a significant internal party problem that would otherwise come up to him at the end of the year when the Turkish National Assembly has to vote again on the further extension of the OPC.

The Prime Minister made a political turnaround just as easily when he accepted the further contractual expansion of security cooperation with Israel. When the agreement on measures of military cooperation with Tel Aviv concluded by the then Prime Minister Çiller became known in February, Erbakan was still one of the most outspoken critics and spoke of a betrayal of the Islamic brothers. At the beginning of August he tacitly accepted the new agreement, which primarily paved the way for the modernization of the Turkish F-4 fighter aircraft by the Israeli air force industry.

The continuation of the connection to the west is thus a quasi-predetermined component of the external positionpolicy of the new coalition. Erbakan has accepted this, but he cannot and does not want to distinguish himself here. Rather, he must pay attention to the Eyes of his appendagesger not to make too many concessions to a foreign policy which, according to the declarth Opinion of the RP of Turkey is actually to the disadvantage. So what could be more natural than to leave this part of foreign policy, including relations with the IMF, to its deputy and foreign minister, Tansu Çiller, and to distinguish yourself through foreign policy activities that meet with the goodwill of his supporters.

If he can also establish promising economic connections, it should only benefit his reputation as a politician who has the well-being of Turkey in mind. Refah circles therefore never tire of highlighting the 40 or more economic agreements that were concluded on Erbakan's trip to Asia. Establishing closer ties to the up-and-coming Asian economic area was also a foreign policy maxim of the then Prime Minister Turgut Özal in the 1980s and is by no means an invention of the welfare party.

This policy also meets a widespread feeling in Turkey that, in view of the neglect of Turkish interests shown by the West, it could only be useful if Ankara showed greater self-confidence in foreign policy. Traditionally, this is expressed not only in persistent advocacy of Turkish concerns vis-à-vis Western allies, but also since the late 1960s in attempts to diversify foreign policy relations. The countries in the Middle East and North Africa were the target of corresponding efforts as were the countries of the Asian region. In the last few years the new republics in Central Asia have been added in this regard.

However, Turkey has tried to diversify its foreign policyrelationships so far Successes vercan draw. But that did not lead to silence in the Turkish public's wishes and demands. In particular, they are always articulated when the EU and / or the USA take too little account of Turkish interests in their foreign policy, as is currently the case again in the opinion of broad circles.

The Europeans clearly show that the partner on the Bosphorus has slipped far down the scale of foreign policy priorities, and Washington pursues a policy in the Middle East that does not take into account the regional constraints that Turkey is exposed to.

The gas business with Iran

That is why the gas business with Iran in Turkey hardly meets with criticism, which has caused considerable irritation in the West, especially in the USA. The provocation of Washington was too obvious, since only a few days earlier the American president had signed a law threatening sanctions on all foreign companies that invest more than 40 million dollars a year in the oil or gas sector in Iran or Libya. However, Erbakan signed an agreement in Tehran that provides for the delivery of over 100 billion cubic meters of Iranian natural gas to Turkey for $ 20 billion over the next 23 years. However, this project had been pursued by then Prime Minister Çiller since last year, and the contract had been ready for signature for months. Erbakan's contribution appears to have essentially consisted of removing clauses from the paper that provided for Turkish participation in the financing of the part of the pipeline to be built by Iran. The new American law would therefore not be violated.

Without a doubt, despite claims to the contrary to the press in Tehran, Erbakan is likely to have wanted Washington to be provoked. However, it is less clear whether he really wanted to send a signal for a new - Islamist - course in Turkish foreign policy. There are some other important reasons for creating a tension-free and neighborly relationship between Ankara and Tehran. On the one hand, there is the freedom of action that PKK combat groups have so far enjoyed in the Iranian border area for their raids in Turkey. Erbakan has allegedly received assurances from his Iranian colleague Rafsanjani that this will be stopped in the future.

In addition to the above-mentioned efforts in power plant construction, Turkey urgently needs additional energy imports. The previous one-sided dependence in the gas sector on Russia is causing discomfort. In addition to Iran, delivery agreements are therefore also planned with Algeria, Nigeria, Qatar and Turkmenistan. In the latter case in particular, another factor that speaks for a good Turkish-Iranian neighborhood becomes important: the Iranian connection routes to Central Asia. The natural gas contract signed two years ago between Ankara and Akshabad, with which Turkmen natural gas is to be delivered to Turkey and from there to Europe, will only have a chance of realization with the now agreed Iranian-Turkish pipeline.

So it is hardly possible for Turkey to ignore its Iranian neighbor. This realization has already determined the policy of all previous Turkish governments and has led to prime ministers of all political stripes trying to establish good neighborly relations with Tehran. In this sense, Erbakan's visit to Rafsanjani was also a sign of continuity.

Ongoing conflicts with Europe and Greece

Continuity is also likely to be the hallmark of relations between Turkey and the European Union - but in a rather negative sense. The conclusion of the customs union does not mean a change for the better. Both Pages, Ankara and the Fifteen, maintain their different views of the meaning of this step: For the EU, the customs union is another element in the effort to bring Turkey closer to Europe without doing so everbut the future development too prejudizieren. For Ankara, the customs union means thereagainst the last step before joining the EU.

That should at least be the opinion of Erbakan's bourgeois coalition partner. After the formation of the government, he himself did not repeat his rejection of the agreements reached between Brussels and Ankara on March 6, 1995, which he emphasized in the spring, but he is still unlikely to feel any urge to join the EU. In this regard, he remained true to his stance, which led him as early as 1980 to torpedo the efforts of the then Demirel government to join the Turkish National Assembly with a motion of censure against the Foreign Minister. At the time, this accelerated the decline in authority of the minority government and indirectly favored the intervention of the military on September 12, 1980.

But also for the smooth functioningThere will be difficulties with the customs union. Turkey sees itself already again as a "loser" with the EUmade agreement. The reason for this lies in the Inability of the Union to provide Turkey with the financial assistance pledged under the Customs Union. Greece blocannounces a corresponding decision of the EU Council, especially with reference to the situation in Cyprus and on existing bilatesreal conflicts that only escalated again at the end of January. After the Tension has risen again and there were clashes in late August / early September on both sides came to death, the European Parliament has in September the suspension of the grantclosed. The EP holds Turkey responsible for the incidents and deaths in Cypruslich.

Resolving the Greek-Turkish conflict remains the main prerequisite for sustainable improvement the relationbetween Turkey and the EU and thus for a stronger integration of the doorkei in Europe. But in future it is hardly to be expected that the governments in Athens and Ankara will act in the interests of one thing permanent compensation over the numerous domestic political disruptive factors will override. Even if the im Greek Prime Minister Simitis' confirmed office should show a larger council, cannot be expected that Erbakan was a similar far-reaching antagonism to the Greekscoming will signal how it will be civil predecessor Mesut Yilmaz did in the spring of 1996.

The unresolved Cyprus problem is of particular importance for the future of relations with Turkey. The EU's decision to start accession negotiations six months after the end of the Intergovernmental Conference on the revision of the Maastricht Treaty creates constraints. The very beginning of negotiations, without the prospect of a solution to the conflict on the island, will put a strain on relations with Turkey - especially if the EU financial blockade within the framework of the customs union and Turkey continues to be excluded from efforts an expansion of the EU to shape the new "European architecture".

Accession of Cyprus without a previous solution to the conflict and against the will of the Cypriot Turks (and Ankaras) will solidify the division of the island and drastically heighten tensions in the eastern Mediterranean. The Turkish public will interpret it as another rejection of Turkish European ambitions. National and religious forces in Turkey would be further strengthened. The creeping process of alienation between the EU and Turkey is gaining momentum, and a break in relations cannot be ruled out in the case of a corresponding domestic political constellation in Turkey.

© Friedrich Ebert Foundation | technical support | net edition fes-library | April 1999