Iran Deal Overshadows Turkey-Egypt Issues

P5+1 Talks on Iran's Nuclear Program begin at the United Nations in Geneva on November 7, 2013, Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman is the U.S. head of delegation. (Photo by United States Geneva Mission)
P5+1 Talks on Iran’s Nuclear Program began at the United Nations in Geneva on November 7, 2013, Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman was the U.S. head of delegation. (Photo by United States Geneva Mission)

P5+1 countries and Iranian foreign ministers might have announced in Geneva yesterday that they reached an agreement on control over Iran’s nuclear program, but the most important story regarding the Middle East will probably be something else.

International media would probably focus on Egypt’s expelling of the Turkish Ambassador to Cairo as “persona non grata” and downgrading diplomatic relations on November 23 because of Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan’s words in St. Petersburg a day before. There, in a joint press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Erdoğan had said that he had no respect to those who toppled former President of Egypt Mohamed Morsi through the July 3 coup and now trying him in courts.

In return, Erdoğan showed four-fingers to Cairo, as the “Rabia” symbol of Morsi supporters and denounced Egyptian Ambassador to Ankara Abderahman Salah Eldin as “persona non grata,” but was unable to expel him. Because Salah Eldin had already left the country on August 16, hours after Erdoğan had recalled Turkish Ambassador to Cairo Hüseyin Avni Botsalı “for consultations” in protest at the coup in Egypt. Never hiding his ideological sympathy for the Muslim Brotherhood movement which backs Morsi, Erdoğan has got into rows with the U.S., European Union and Russia because of not isolating the “coup regime” in Egypt.

The weird thing was the Turkish government sending Botsalı back to Cairo on September 5, only one day after a delegation from the Turkish main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) arrived in the Egyptian capital to carry out contacts with all parties there, including the Brotherhood. Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy said Turkey “which is not an Arab country” would never be able to take a leading role in among the Arab geography, in reference to the efforts of Erdoğan and his Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, and did not send back Egyptian Ambassador to Ankara. So Ankara’s reply to Cairo in the “persona non grata” game actually did not have a practical effect on what was already downgraded in practice.

But it will have an effect on Turkey’s positioning in the Middle East and Eastern Mediterranean. Addressing an energy conference in Istanbul on November 21, Turkish President Abdullah Gül said that Turkey was planning to host new oil and gas pipelines from Azerbaijan and Iraq to Europe and the cheapest way to transport the products of the new fields in the Eastern Mediterranean was through Turkey as well.

The new fields in the Eastern Mediterranean belong to Egypt, Israel and the Republic of Cyprus. Turkey had downgraded its relations with Israel because of the apology row over the killing of nine Turks trying to break the Gaza embargo by Israeli soldiers back in 2010. Now Egypt is added to that list.

Turkey has no diplomatic relations with the Greek government of Cyprus anyway. It’s not stated here, but Turkey has no diplomatic relations with Syria left since Erdoğan’s government clearly wants the civil war to end together with its President Bashar al-Assad’s one.

President Gül tries to promote better relations for Turkey in the Eastern Mediterranean for energy security, national security reasons, but Prime Minister Erdoğan’s diplomacy line motivated by ideological reasons does not seem to facilitate that, at least for the time being.

The nuclear deal between P5+1 and Iran is likely to change the bigger picture in the Middle East once again, the first one being U.S. President Barack Obama’s statement earlier this year that with new technologies in shale gas production, the U.S. will no longer be dependent on Middle East energy sources pretty soon and energy prices could go down globally. It is not a coincidence that Saudi Arabia joins Israel in protesting the deal between Iran and the U.S., Russia, China, France, UK and Germany to have detailed U.N. inspections on its nuclear program in return for eased sanctions which also means a decrease of the military strike threat by Israel (and now we should add Saudi Arabia) on Iran; new President Hassan Rouhani is trying hard to save its nation from worse consequences.

Turkey has been for a nuclear weapons-free Middle East anyway but that is not the issue here. The issue is the change in the rules of the game in the Middle East, where principals, or in another words, ideology-based diplomacy is not likely to be in the national interests of Turkey.

This article first appeared in Hurriyet Daily News, a leading newspaper of Turkey.

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