ANKARA - Turkish Daily News
The high-level protocol applied to the Iranian leader during his recent visit to Turkey has raised questions about the long-term implications of the critical trip for the country's image.
The visit, the first-ever by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to a NATO country, came amid Western efforts to isolate Tehran due to its disputed nuclear program. Although analysts and political observers categorically defended that Turkey should keep open diplomatic channels with all of its neighbors in the region, including Iran, the way Ahmadinejad was hosted in Istanbul presented an image of solidarity between the two Islamic countries, sparking complaints that Turkey let Ahmadinejad show off in the predominantly Muslim but secular country.
The Iranian leader attracted vocal support from hundreds of Turks when he visited the Blue Mosque to pray on Friday, a development that even prompted the imam of the mosque to reprimand the worshippers, who chanted slogans in favor of the Iranian leader and attempted to take his photo via their mobile phones, interrupting the religious ritual.
�The Friday's pray turning into a political show in a secular country has become neither Turkey nor Istanbul,� Onur Öymen, deputy leader of the main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, told the Turkish Daily News yesterday.
�Iran is a neighbor of Turkey with which we should have friendly relations in every sphere, but the current circumstances are far from legitimizing such a visit,� he said, apparently referring to Tehran's insufficient answer to the call of Germany and five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council to Iran to freeze its nuclear program.
Sanberk: Iran penetrates isolation
�What will Turkey gain from the controversial visit?� was the most critical question before Ahmadinejad's arrival, occupying newspaper columns at home and abroad. At the end of the day, Ankara fell short of even signing the energy deals opposed by Washington, leading the opposition party to call the visit �an empty one both in the form and in the content.�
�Diplomacy is not a zero-sum game, but there is no doubt that the Iranian leader gained much more from this visit than Turkey did,� said veteran diplomat Özdem Sanberk. �Iran has penetrated isolation.�
He said, however, that Turkey had to take into account its own interests and that its outlook toward its neighbor cannot always be the same as that of the United States.
If the visit is evaluated under the three main pillars of Turkish foreign policy towards its neighbors -- security for all, dialogue at the highest level, and economic inter-dependence and solidarity -- it is constructive and positive, noted Sanberk.
Iran is becoming an increasingly important trade partner for Turkey. Ahmadinejad said bilateral trade was targeted to reach $20 billion within four years, from some $10 billion this year.
The government's problem-free policy towards its neighbors is also bearing fruit on another front in the resumption of indirect negotiations between Syria and Israel under Turkish auspices. To the consternation of its allies, Ankara hosted Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the aftermath of the U.S.-led Iraq war in 2003, though Damascus was declared part of the �axis of evil� by Washington.
�The foreign policy dossiers of Turkey and the United States cannot always overlap. Turkey is also against Iran's nuclear armament. There is no divergence here with Washington but what differs is the method to be pursued,� said Sanberk. Ankara favors a diplomatic solution to the nuclear row out of fear that a possible U.S. or Israeli strike against Iran will plunge the entire region into turmoil and hurt Turkey.
�U.S. expectation from Turkey to isolate Iran, a unilateral decision not consulted with Ankara, is wrong, just like Ahmadinejad's violation of rules in Turkey,� he added.
Loğoğlu: Turkey should have remained firm on protocol
The Iranian leader's refusal to visit the mausoleum of modern Turkey's founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, a protocol for visiting foreign heads of state or government in official visits to Ankara, has created uneasiness and even adverse reaction from the public.
�I find the violation of state rules wrong. Turkey should have remained firm on them,� said Faruk Loğoğlu, former Turkish ambassador to Washington. �But the priority should not be placed on the mausoleum visit if Turkey's national interests require it to meet with the Iranian leader.�
Loğoğlu said Turkey and Iran had common interests in trade and energy issues as well as in the fight against terrorism, while predicting that Ahmadinejad's Istanbul talks would not push Washington to punish Ankara.
�The U.S. administration may not be happy with the visit but I don't think that this will cause Washington to impose sanctions on Ankara,� he said, contrary to some commentaries that the United States could end the November 2007 agreement with Turkey that demarcated cooperation and intelligence sharing in the fight against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK.