Turkey: Once a Mediator, Now Engaging in Conflict with Syria, Iran

Today’s decision by the Turkish parliament to authorize military action against Syria has the potential to become an inflection point in the collapse of the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) foreign policy. After coming to power AKP vowed to pursue a “zero problems” approach to bordering countries. Turkey would cultivate close ties with rogue regimes such as Syria and Iran, in the process positioning itself as a regional power and as a critical mediator between those countries and the West

In 2008 Israel and Syria held four indirect rounds of peace talks with Turkish mediation, four years after Syrian President Bashir Al-Assad became the first Syrian President to visit Turkey since Syria’s independence. In 2010, Brazil and Turkey met in Tehran to negotiate a nuclear fuel swap, and in July 2012 Turkey hosted nuclear talks between the P5+1.

Since the summer, however, the AKP’s carefully-built “zero problems” strategy has collapsed. A combination of factors, including Turkey’s increasingly complicated relationship with NATO, converged to undermine Turkish-Iranian relations. That military action against Syria was formally authorized in the Turkish parliament by a vote of 320 to 129 is an indication of the degree to which Ankara is now formally aligned against Iran and its regional allies and proxies.

The collapse of the AKP’s foreign policy also presents a challenge to Western policy-makers. Many engagement and outreach efforts have, in recent years, been conducted through Turkish channels or in Turkish forums. The potential for a Turkish hot war with an Iran-backed, Hezbollah-supported neighbor raises the possibility that the West will need to find new regional mediators.

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