Turkey’s domestic fortunes are tied to foreign policy success

Turkey’s domestic fortunes are tied to foreign policy success

Turkey’s domestic fortunes are tied to foreign policy success
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In the past, foreign policy did not get a lot of attention from the Turkish public. However, as Turkey has started to play a greater role in international and regional politics, the public is taking a more serious look at the country’s record on foreign policy issues.
Inevitably, the first focus of the Turkish people is on the economic and domestic issues that affect them the most. However, in recent years the country’s foreign policy orientation has started to have an effect on both the domestic and economic fronts.
Foreign policy issues have become a hot topic of debate in Turkey before every election. As the country approaches one of its most important elections, scheduled for next year, there seem to be significant changes in foreign policy, not only in terms of rhetoric and discourse but also substance and strategy.
A recent report published by a Turkish daily newspaper stated that an overall assessment of Turkey’s foreign policy and its priorities was made during a briefing held at the Turkish Presidency a couple of weeks ago. Officials concluded that Turkey’s success in dealing with internal problems depends on its diplomatic performance.
The report also said that Turkey’s short-term priority in foreign policy will be to focus on normalizing strained ties with regional foes, including Armenia, Israel and Gulf countries, to create a “trouble-free circle” around its neighborhood.
There is now a speedy phase of reconciliation efforts in progress with Armenia, Israel and the Gulf countries, in a way that would have been unthinkable a year ago. In the coming months, in particular February and March, there are expected to be several high-level official visits and meetings to boost this rapid normalization process.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said his country might send its foreign minister to the Antalya Diplomacy Forum that will be hosted by the Turkish government in March. He said: “It would be irrational to miss a chance to continue meetings.”
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu confirmed that Turkey has invited neighboring countries to attend, including Armenia, Greece, Greek Cyprus, Israel and Egypt, nations with which Turkey has strained relationships.
Ankara revealed the invitation was sent to Yerevan less than a week after their respective special envoys held their first round of negotiations on normalizing relations between the two states.

The normalization of relations with Egypt, the Gulf countries, Israel, Armenia and Greece will be a litmus test for Turkey’s new diplomatic-restoration efforts.

Sinem Cengiz

The Turkish and Armenian foreign ministries described the talks, held in Moscow, as “positive and constructive” and agreed to continue the discussions about reconciliation and reestablishing diplomatic and economic bonds after three decades.
As part of confidence-building efforts, they also agreed to resume reciprocal charter flights between Istanbul and Yerevan. There are also reports that studies are being carried out into the possibility of launching flights between Armenia and other cities in Turkey, including Kars and Van, which contain religious and historical sites of importance to Armenians.
Also, this week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan pledged, during a meeting with Armenian Foundations Union President Bedros Sirinoglu, to implement a legal arrangement that will allow religious foundations for minorities in Turkey to elect their own boards of directors.
In Turkey’s relations with Israel, meanwhile, there seems to be a softening of the language toward Tel Aviv and it is likely that further exchanges will take place following telephone conversations between the two countries’ presidents and foreign ministers. For a move toward full rapprochement, the next development in ties would be the reciprocal appointment of ambassadors.
Erdogan recently revealed that a potential visit by Israel’s president, Isaac Herzog, is being discussed and there is an expectation that it might happen as soon as the first half of February. He also said that Ankara is ready to discuss an alternative gas pipeline after the US rescinded its support for a planned conduit to carry Israeli gas to Europe via Cyprus and Greece.
Regarding relations with the Gulf countries, Erdogan has revealed plans to visit Saudi Arabia and the UAE in mid-February. There are already ongoing talks with Egypt as part of the normalization strategy with Arab states that have been at odds with Ankara.
Another crucial area in which Turkey might continue to stimulate normalization efforts could be the improvement of relations with the EU, in which Ankara’s relations with Greece have an important dimension.
Erdogan hosted a dinner for EU ambassadors in Turkey on Jan. 13 to discuss the prospects for beginning a positive phase of relations with the members of the union. Shortly after that meeting, the Turkish-Greek Joint Economic Commission convened in Athens on Jan. 24 for the first time since 2010. Turkish Deputy Trade Minister Mustafa Tuzcu and Greek Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Konstantinos Fragogiannis co-chaired this fifth session of the JEC.
It is obvious that some of Turkey’s foreign policy problems will not be resolved any time soon. Yet a new rhetoric and a new strategy of engagement will help, paving the way for a positive track in strained relations.
The normalization of relations with Egypt, the Gulf countries, Israel, Armenia and Greece will be a litmus test for Turkey’s new diplomatic-restoration efforts.
The outcome of these efforts is likely to have a significant effect on how Ankara copes with the economic and domestic issues the country faces ahead of the upcoming elections.

  • Sinem Cengiz is a Turkish political analyst who specializes in Turkey’s relations with the Middle East. Twitter: @SinemCngz
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