Chance worth taking

Ahmadinejad's foray to Turkey


Chance worth taking
by Alon Ben-Meir

It is quite understandable that Israel would be deeply disappointed by Turkey's decision to invite Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for an official visit this week. In Israel's view, such a visit will only further legitimize a leader who is reviled for his denial of the Holocaust and for his repeated existential threats to the state of Israel. The question, however, should not be how much legitimacy Mr. Ahmadinejad may garner from this visit, but whether Turkish officials could potentially engender something positive out of this foray that could benefit not only Turkey but the entire region including Israel.

Turkish-Iranian bilateral relations are extensive and are growing in importance not only because Iran is a major player in the Middle East, but due to expanding trade relations between the two nations. Their bilateral trade jumped from $1.5 billion in 2000 to $4 billion in 2004 and is expected to exceed $7 billion in 2008. Turkey imports approximately 20% of it gas consumption from Iran and in 2007 signed a memorandum of understanding to build a pipeline designed to transport up to 40 billion cubic meters of gas to Europe. Further expansion of the bilateral relations which may culminate with Ahmadinejad's visit may include financial, banking and other commercial enterprises. Turkish officials do insist, however, that the growing bilateral relations do not obscure the fact that Turkey is concerned over Iran's nuclear program, and Prime Minister Recep Erdogan has expressed interest in mediating future negotiations with Iran.

The seven year effort by the Bush administration to isolate Iran and punish it for its alleged nuclear weapons program has basically failed. Why not try other avenues? Is it possible that Turkey, as a neighbor with shared interests and concerns over regional security and stability of the region and with superior cultural understanding may be in a better position to appeal to Iranian senses? The meetings between Prime Minister Erdogan and Ahmadinejad could provide Turkish officials with a better insight into the real Iranian position and thinking on the nuclear issue. And if there is one chance that Turkey could in fact defuse the nuclear stand-off is it not worth taking it? To suggest that the visit is entirely counterproductive misses the whole point. For Turkey the stakes are extremely high; the Turkish government is terrified of yet another avoidable war that could engulf the region and they have an obligation to do everything they can to avert a catastrophe. Ahmadinejad's visit to Turkey may have the effect of elevating his stature, but by inviting him to Turkey and according him the respect he seeks, Ankara will be in a much stronger position to deal with the nuclear issue. Turkey knows well Israel's deep concerns over national security. Turkish-Israeli bilateral relations go back nearly 60 years and are wide-ranging and growing. Other than trade and cultural relations there exists extensive military and strategic cooperation between the two nations. In addition, Turkey is currently involved in mediating between Israel and Syria and should the negotiations conclude successfully, they would have far-reaching regional implications. Syria's President Bashar al-Assad has asked Turkish officials to help Damascus allay Tehran's concerns over the Israeli-Syrian negotiations. To be sure, Turkey is playing a significant role with all major players in the region and speaks with a credible voice. Turkey, at this juncture, is better equipped than the EU or the United States to influence Iran's conduct on the nuclear quandary. The Turkish government can make Ahmadinejad understand that Israel takes his threats seriously and that the future wellbeing of Iran and the whole region depends on achieving a diplomatic solution to the nuclear impasse.

Although Ahmadinejad sought this visit in efforts to break off his isolation and defy the Bush administration, the Turkish government could utilize the visit to change the dynamic of the negotiations between P5+1 and Iran. Obviously Tehran has not responded well to public threats, intimidations and sanctions. As a proud nation the Iranians go on the offensive when humiliated and prefer to deal with sensitive issues secretively which offers room for deniability. A secret channel for the negotiations between Turkey and Iran could become a critical venue for future talks on the nuclear issue. While the P5+1 negotiations should continue, the United States can use a channel through Turkey to convey to Tehran the dire consequences it may face should it persist in the enrichment of uranium. What can be said privately with credibility will be taken far more seriously by the clergy in Tehran, without the public humiliation. Ahmadinejad continues to enjoy the full support of Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. What Ahmadinejad hears from the Turks on this visit or in subsequent talks will resonate differently in Iran and will be conveyed to Khamenei much more seriously than a message from any other party could be.

Israel's reservations and concerns over Ahmadinejad's visit not withstanding, the visit has the potential to move the nuclear issue from dead center and open up new opportunities to end Iran's nuclear problem which has eluded the West for more than seven years.

Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies.


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Re: Soufi, adab ham khoob cheezieh. (to: shadooneh)

by soufi on

Avalesh, I did not call turkish people "stupid" (read my post again carefully , this time take your ADD/ADHD medication please). Dovomandesh, being "poor" in  a nation that once ruled the world (or big part of it ) and lost it in relatively short period of time  is really equivalent to being "unsmart". If you cannot comprehend that unsmart and stupid are different, then take an English course (more depth than learning A, B, C, D, E, F, ...)!.




Soufi, adab ham khoob cheezieh.

by Shadooneh (not verified) on

By calling the Turks "stupid" and "unsmart" in your posts, you show your own lack of decorum and what we Iranians call "tarbiat-e khanevdegi". Having said that, I find your thoughts about Iran-Turkish relationship nonsensical and mediocre at best. Your whole point seems to be the Turks are stupid because the "Owe" money! Maybe you were "smart" enough to pay for your house or car, if you have one, in cash, but believe or not a lot of very smart people in this world owe money to someone in the course of their lives. Your post reminds me of that Iranian proverb that says, "adab az keh amookhti?" The answer is "az be adabaan". So thanks for reminding me of that.

Shining Head

Re: Soufi (to: AmirAshkan Pishroo )

by Shining Head on

From Soufi's posts I can tell he is very smart (man/woman = person !). So are you Amir! In fact the politics due to the involvenment of many parameters , nations, ideologies, styles, customes, and cultures, is very COMPLEX and I guess only very smart people like Soufi can figure it out.





by Alaleh Alamir (not verified) on

5+1+1 = 5/11?

the only stupidity outdoing turkish mass stupidity may well be iranian antisemitic comments here and there... 


Pas chi

by Daryush on

Iranian president, however bad or evil, is still Iranian and his brain moves faster than those of Israelis fat stew politicians.

Good for Turkey to realize Iran and the need to reconcile with the ME super power.

By the way, today Iranian President has disagreed for Turkey to play any role in its dispute of Nuclear energy with the West.

My idea of the best scenario: Iran, Russia,India, China United politically to gain economical advantages for their future well being. Not too far fetched coming to think of it.


Israel and the region

by mazandarani on

"Turkish officials could potentially engender something positive out of this foray that could benefit not only Turkey but the entire region including Israel."

As if Israel and it's supporters  ever had the sake of the region on their agenda and not solely their own benefit...One needs only to read Herzl, the ideologist of Zionism ("the forthcoming jewish state shall be a wall against asian barbarism"). With whoever they entered an alliance in the region, from Haile Selassie's Ethiopia to Turkey, from the Kurds in Iraq to the Christians in Lebanon, the alliance was to Israels favour. And, they abandon their allies as soon as it's opportune for them as they did with the Iraqi Kurds. (By the way, this works both ways, Dany Chamoun, the leader of a maronite lebanese militia, which was supplied with weapons by Israel, sold the weapons to the palestinians, hehe). One can also read what Vanunu said, for example that radioactive steam from the nuclear installation in Dimona was only discharged when the wind was blowing in the direction of the jordanian border... when the northern african colonies were fighting for independence, Israel accorded the french with informations they gathered from jews in these countries. and so forth


AmirAshkan Pishroo


by AmirAshkan Pishroo on

Though I am not sure if I agree with your description, you seem to be good at figuring out political jigsaw puzzles and having a complex approach, which is a good thing in politics.


Re: Weapon of mass stupidity

by soufi on

You described Turkey's role correctly. However, their stupidity is sort of working for Iran in a strange way. Turkey owes the foriegn banks over $50B now (the figure was $40 B several years ago and I am sure it is much higher now, but I don't know the exact figure -- $50B is only a guess). US knows it cannot let them go because it needs bases and presence in that part of the world. On the other hand US knows turkey is in essence s poor (unsmart) and easy-going nation who cannot be counted on in a serious  way. As much as Israel has become a liability for US in the ME, so is turkey in a  different way. Iranians are using these dynamics in a way to protect themselves against the western lashes that they would otherwise be feeling badly. If Iran is mis-treated by the west, Turkey becomes even a bigger liability for US and a much higher expense. AT this time with US in high debt who wants another major cost (US's view).


AmirAshkan Pishroo

Weapon of mass stupidity

by AmirAshkan Pishroo on

Turkey's role to maintain peace between Iran and US is not only depressing for peace but also a fiasco for humanity. To take on such role, Turkey needs first to dismantle its own weapon of mass stupidity:

The Turks still continue lying officially about the 1915 genocide of Armenians, never mind apologizing to them.

The Turkish authorities redoubled their threat to invade the autonomous Kurdish-run provinces of northern Iraq.

Then there remains the question of Cyprus, where Turkey maintains an
occupation force that has repeatedly been condemned by a thesaurus of
U.N. resolutions ever since 1974.



Alon, most of the real world ...

by soufi on

does not really care about holocast, or what the zio-nazis have to say. They have no credibility in the international community for someone to give a damn about their interest. I am sure the topic is of interest to you, but others ?