Turkey, in an attempt to follow European Union policy,
has revised its policy toward Iran and Syria.
A report by the Washington Institute said Ankara's hopes to be accepted
into the EU have affected Turkey's policy toward its neighbors. Rather than
treat them as rogue states, the report said, Turkey now advocates the use of
dialogue and engagement toward Damascus and Teheran.
"The dynamics of Turkish politics have transformed since Turkey received
a 'promise' in December 2002 that the EU would decide on Ankara's
application for membership in December 2004," the report said. "The sudden
and likely prospect of EU accession has made the impossible possible in
Ankara. Toward this end, the country has adopted dramatic political reforms
to satisfy EU accession criteria."
The report came in wake of a three-day visit by Syrian President
Bashar Assad to Turkey in January. Assad termed the visit historic and
both countries said this would open a new chapter in their relations, Middle East Newsline reported.
Authored by Soner Cagaptay, a leading Turkish expert, the report said
Ankara's position on Iran and Syria appears influenced by the EU. The report
said Turkey has played down the harboring of Kurdish insurgents by Iran and
"With this in mind, Ankara's new attitude toward the Middle East is that
Turkey will be nice to its neighbors as long as they are nice to Turkey,"
the report said. "With EU accession in mind, Turkey wants to treat its
Middle Eastern neighbors a la Europe. Engagement and
dialogue, rather than confrontation and containment, are the leitmotivs."
The report said the Turkish security establishment still regards Iran
and Syria as bases for Al Qaida-related insurgency groups. Turkish
intelligence determined that the masterminds of the November 2003 Al Qaida
bombings in Istanbul were hiding in Syria as well as either in Georgia or
Another factor in the Syrian-Turkish rapproachment, the report said, was
the influence of the Islamic-dominated government of Prime Minister Recep
Erdogan. The report said Erdogan regards Turkey's Islamic neighbors as
natural allies regardless of their previous support for the Kurdish Workers
Party, or PKK, and Al Qaida-related groups.
The report warned that Turkey's foreign policy could encounter a crisis
regarding policy toward Cyprus, which enters the EU in May 2004. The EU has
linked Turkish accession to the solution of the divided Cypriot island,
where more than 30,000 Turkish troops have been deployed.
"The greatest foreign policy problem in Turkey this year will be Cyprus,
whose solution Brussels is making a condition for Turkey's EU accession,"
the report said. "With the liberals and Islamists pushing for a quick
solution and the nationalists opposing, the outcome of this debate may also
determine whether a new Turkish foreign policy consensus on Iran and Syria
will survive the year 2004."