US report says Turkey could be drawn into war with Syria, Iran

On March 21, 2013 by stratagem

Source: TZ

A new report by a Washington-based think tank has claimed that Turkey could be inadvertently drawn into war with the Syrian regime and possibly Iran, which would trigger collective defense obligations for the United States and other NATO allies.
The report titled “The Turkey, Russia, Iran Nexus: driving forces and strategies” by Center for Strategic and International Studies presents key findings of an 18-month project to assess the forces and interests shaping relations among Turkey, Russia, and Iran.

The report claimed that relations between Turkey and Iran have entered a volatile phase. Despite the efforts of both governments to suggest an enduring partnership, the report said growing differences could lead to a rupture in bilateral relations or even conflict. The Turkish government still hopes that its diplomatic and economic engagement will facilitate a political transition in Syria, a dampening of Shia–Sunni tensions, and peaceful resolution of the crisis over Iran’s nuclear program.

It said given their continuing support to the Assad regime and fears about the political forces behind the Arab Spring, Russia and Iran now find themselves aligned against Turkey, the United States, and much of the rest of the international community. Iran sees its ties to Syria, and through it links to Hezbollah in Lebanon, as the central pillar in maintaining its “axis of resistance” to Israel and its allies. As the civil and proxy wars in Syria grind on and more radical elements gain traction, the potential for wider conflict is growing.

The report said to avoid this outcome, the US should work with Turkey and other governments to expand support to the Syrian opposition and initiate a new diplomatic effort, engaging Turkey, the European Union, Russia, and Iran, to end the fighting and outline the terms of a political transition in Syria that would provide the context for Moscow and Tehran to facilitate Assad’s stepping down.

According to the report, Turkey’s relations with Iran have had their ups and downs. There are, however, fundamental limitations on what remains a wary partnership, given enduring rivalry, suspicion, and deep sectarian and cultural differences. It noted that both governments have a strategy of using mutually beneficial economic and energy ties as a way to keep their competition peaceful. Iran’s ties to Turkey are also important in avoiding further international isolation, the report added.

The report claims that political and security cooperation between the two governments has been mixed. The two have convergent policies on the Palestinian issue, but sharp differences on the Arab Spring, Syria, and Iraq. Turkish officials remain greatly alarmed by Iran’s fanning of Shia–Sunni tensions in the region.

On Russia, the report said Ankara and Moscow have been successful in insulating mutually beneficial commercial and energy ties from sharp differences over Syria and the Arab Spring. It said this will be increasingly difficult unless Moscow elects to work with the international community to foster a political transition in Syria and play a more constructive role in the Eastern Mediterranean and unless they develop some rules of the road in the Caucasus.

Authors claimed that despite the declaration of a “strategic partnership” in 2010, the relationship remains more tactical than strategic, as the two countries lack a common political agenda and have more divergent than convergent interests.

It said Moscow and Tehran have been disappointed with Ankara’s close alignment with US and Western stances in the Middle East and North Africa and support for NATO missile defense, but pragmatism on both sides has prevented this from disrupting commercial and energy ties.

Ankara’s continuing dialogue with Tehran and good relations with Moscow could yet prove helpful in facilitating a peaceful resolution of the Iranian nuclear crisis, the report stated.

According to the report, Turkey and Russia seem likely to manage their differences in the Caucasus and Caspian Basin in the near term, but divergent energy and political interests, as well as enduring cultural and religious suspicions, seem likely to rekindle historical rivalries—also involving Iran—over the long term.

It added that while Turkey has commercial interests and wants to prevent Russia from retaining a controlling position over energy flows from the region, it has limited capacity and commitment.

In relations with the US, the report said the US and Turkish interests in the region are in closer alignment but significant policy differences on the Palestinian question and relations with Israel and Iraq will require close consultations to avoid new strains.

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