Column: Clash with Iran helps Trump turn to Turkey


It seems Trump will not try to walk in Obama’s shoes and is aware of Turkey’s strong presence in the Middle East as he focuses on determining the U.S.’s road map in the region.

With the arrival of U.S. President Donald Trump it was a foregone conclusion that American relations with Iran would sour and that the nuclear deal would be threatened. However, what was surprising was the speed with which relations between Washington and Tehran soured and the two countries came to the brink of trading punches.

It all started with Iran and the U.S. exchanging threats that resulted in a war of words. But with pro-Iranian Shiite militias firing missiles at a Saudi battleship, events started to unfold. Iran tested a medium range ballistic missile that could deliver nuclear warheads, which violated the nuclear agreement between Iran and the Western powers. The U.S. responded by imposing new sanctions on Iranian individuals and companies. Iran hit back by testing more missiles during military exercises.

Trump seems to be doing some hard thinking about Turkey these days and events that are unfolding around him seem to be helping him to make his mind up.

The U.S. needs Turkey more than ever in any bout against Iran. Turkey is not only a major power in its region but it is also a balancing factor.

The fact that Turkey is well on the way to normalizing its relations with Israel, which makes things much easier for Trump and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to forge some form of cooperation regarding Iran. Yet, Turkey has always been very cautious in avoiding any kind of direct clash with Iran in the past and has preferred to seek ways to mend fences between Tehran and the West. In fact it was Ankara that started the fence-mending process between Iran and the Western powers that eventually led to the nuclear agreement.

Turkey also opposed sanctions against Iran and tried to help Tehran out in those hard times. But it seems the Iranian leaders forgot Ankara’s friendship and help during thos

e tough times and in fact turned their backs on Turkey in the most critical times after the nuclear deal went through with the Western powers.

Iran was seen as instrumental in the anti-Turkish attitude of the Baghdad central government against Ankara. Iran has been pushing an anti-Turkish agenda in Syria. In fact Iran is suspected to have supported the PKK. There seems to be a hidden rivalry between Turkey and Iran but both sides pretend it does not exist. In fact Ankara is extremely unhappy with Iran using the Shiite sect for Persian expansion in the region.

Yet today things are changing. Iran sees the growing influence of Ankara in the region, despite its own negative attitude, and how Ankara has involved Tehran in the peace process in Kazakhstan’s Astana along with Russia.

The fact that Trump seems to be turning his back on the pro-PKK Syrian Kurdish militants and has shelved a plan by the Obama administration to use them to take Raqqa in Syria from Deash seems to suggest that the new U.S. administration has also understood that it will not go far in Syria without active cooperation with Ankara.

So it seems some solid ground is being built for President Erdoğan to have a meaningful conversation with Trump in the days to come. Obama did not comprehend the value of Turkey in the region and its contributions to global peace. Let us hope Trump does not make the same mistake.

*İLNUR ÇEVIK is a Turkish columnist. He writes for Daily Sabah Turkish newspaper.

(Published in Daily Sabah on Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2017)