'Policy Of Zero Problems With Neighbors Successful For Turkey'

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Interview with Sinan Ulgen is a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe and the chairman of the Istanbul based EDAM think tank.

Q: How successful is a 'zero problem with neighbors' policy declared by Turkish government?

The zero problems with neighbors policy was successful and helped Turkey to enhance its regional influence. But with the onset of the Arab spring it became unsustainable. Because zero problems with neighbors essentially meant having zero problems with regimes. As an influential regional player and a NATO member, Turkey could not continue to appear to give support to authoritarian regimes at a time of democratic upheaval. So today, for all practical purposes, this policy is dead.

Q: How do you see a settlement of the Turkish-Israeli crisis and how soon it can be achieved?

Turkey’s relationship with Israel has been seriously downgraded as a result of the Mavi Marmara incident. The Turkish government stated 3 conditions for the normalization of the relationship with Israel. Turkey expects Israel to issue a public apology, to pay compensation to the families of the victims and finally to lift the embargo on Gazza.

Before the breakdown of the talks, the two sides came very close to an agreement fulfilling the first 2 conditions. But the negotiated text was ultimately rejected by the Netanyahu government. There is therefore little hope for the improvement in the relationship in the near future. The best hope is for a future government in Israel to adopt a more conciliatory approach to mend the relationship with Turkey.

Q: May this crisis concern somehow Azerbaijan? Turkey supports Azerbaijan in the Karabakh conflict. May Turkey ask Azerbaijan to restrict its cooperation with Israel?

The downgrading of Turkey’s relations with Israel will have regional implications. One of these implications is with regard to Turkey’s relations with Azerbaijan. Turkish policy makers will not ask Baku to follow the same policy of downgrading relations with Israel. But they will make their position known to their Azeri counterparts and ask for solidarity with the Turkish position.

Q: And what about problems between Turkey and Iran caused after Turkish  agreement to establish American radars on its territory? Does it mean that interests of the Turkish ally - the US - are above policy of Muslim solidarity conducting by the PM Erdogan?

The hosting of the early warning radar of the missile defense system on Turkish territory was a critical decision. But it was also an unsurprising decision to the extent that Turkey is a NATO member and this was a NATO project. Ankara did not want to find itself in the situation of blocking singlehandedly this important initiative. In this case, it was clear that the fundamental tenets of Turkish foreign policy fostering Turkey’s relations with the transatlantic community were deemed to be more important than the proclivity for Muslim solidarity.

Q: Do you believe in normalization of Turkish-Armenian relation in the nearest future and what are preconditions for that?

The condition for the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations are clear and remain the same. The protocols negotiated between Ankara and Erivan remain on the table. But Turkey conditions the ratification of these protocols to progress on Karabakh. In other words, unless Azerbaijan and Armenia reach an agreement on a roadmap on Karabakh, Turkey will not ratify the protocols and there will be no progress on normalizing relations with Armenia.

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