OPINION

Turkey looks east

It would be premature to evaluate the meeting between US President Barack Obama and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Ankara is seeking to expand its influence in the broader region, especially since Ahmet Davutoglu took over the helm of the Foreign Ministry. Western observers have mostly focused on Erdogan’s shift on the headscarf issue. However, the Justice and Development Party leader’s biggest departure from Kemalist orthodoxy is reflected in Turkey’s overture to the Islamic states in the area. Signs of this switch were first seen during the reign of the late Turgut Ozal, but the policy expanded after the breakup of the Soviet Union. Erdogan’s rise to power injected it with new momentum. Davutoglu carefully stated that Ankara was advancing a policy of «zero problems with neighbors.» It’s no surprise that the US is finding it hard to penetrate the core of Turkish policy; cooperation between the two states can only develop on the basis of an a la carte relationship. Obama’s attempt to fathom Turkey’s intentions regarding UN sanctions on Iraq met with protests from Erdogan, as Ankara is seeking a mediating role. Nor did Obama get any support on Afghanistan. Just days earlier, during the NATO foreign ministers’ meeting in Brussels, Davutoglu proposed accepting Bosnia into NATO’s Membership Action Plan, raising eyebrows among US officials and other peers. Turkey’s foreign policy has particularities on a wider level but in the microcosm of Greek-Turkish ties – the Aegean Sea and Cyprus issues – things are more straightforward. Greece may speak of Turkish «intransigence» but, essentially, this is a bargaining tactic as old as the history of the Ottoman Empire. There should be no illusions. Turkey is not acting under pressure; Turkey is in no rush; Turkey is pursuing an extremely interventionist policy and any risk will come from a Turkish overreach in volatile areas.