Newly appointed Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan (C) delivers a speech, flanked by his predecessor Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu (L), during a handover ceremony in Ankara, Türkiye, June 5, 2023. (AFP Photo)

Türkiye’s new foreign policy in the post-election era

Türkiye will preserve its “strategic autonomy” and redouble its efforts to promote normalization and stronger relations based on “mutual interests.”

Many wondered what President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s foreign policy would look like over the next five years. In an interview with the press on this week’s flight back from the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) and Azerbaijan, he offered insights into those plans. There, the Turkish leader specifically insisted that Türkiye did not face a dilemma between the West and the East: “We are as close to the East as we are to the West.” That sentence encapsulated his intention to develop multidirectional relations further and keep pursuing the policy of balance based on national interests.

Erdoğan also sent a clear message to experts claiming that Türkiye shall prioritize security policy in his new term: “We hope to use dialogue and diplomacy primarily to take the initiative and do what is needed for peace and stability to prevail in our neighborhood and around the world. We will try to reach that goal. Obviously, defending our nation’s rights as well as the rights and shared interests of all mankind will be among our main responsibilities.” It is possible to think of that approach as a reflection of the Turkish president’s goal of building the “Axis of Türkiye,” as mentioned in his election statement for 2023.

Ankara opposes polarizing blocs, trade wars and new cold wars. It remains committed to diplomatic activism to address the uncertainties of a multipolar world and to promote peace and cooperation.

Counterterrorism in focus

In light of the above principles, Erdoğan’s new policy may be summarized as follows:

  • NATO must attach importance to counterterrorism measures. It is not enough for Sweden, where PKK terrorists still demonstrate freely, to pass a new counterterrorism law. Türkiye won’t sign off on Swedish membership until that country’s law enforcement agencies start fighting terrorists. In other words, it is Sweden’s job to take the necessary steps to ensure that it can join NATO at the Vilnius summit.
  • Türkiye’s bilateral relations with Azerbaijan have unparalleled strategic significance as the two countries have a common fate. Greater emphasis on integration with the Turkic world will be among the new term’s priorities.
  • President Erdoğan invited Armenia’s prime minister, Nikol Pashinian, to his inauguration ceremony – another sign of Ankara’s continued commitment to “normalization.” Despite mounting pressure from his opposition, Pashinian’s comments on “possibly recognizing the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, including Karabakh” deserve recognition.
  • Erdoğan notably stated that Iran, as opposed to Armenia, was blocking the opening of the Zangezur corridor. That comment warned Tehran, which is unhappy with Turkish-Azerbaijani solidarity and believes that the corridor’s opening shall weaken its position, that: “It makes us and Azerbaijan sad that Iran adopted this stance. Truth be told, they should be unhappy, too. If they were to support this (project), Türkiye, Azerbaijan and Iran would be integrated by land and rail. Perhaps the Beijing-London line may be opened as well.” The Turkish leader essentially called on Tehran to stop blocking the relevant efforts and develop a perspective of winning together.
  • Bringing up the possibility of meeting Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis at the Vilnius summit, Erdoğan took his idea of normalization with Greece to the next level. Yet he did not refrain from adding that Türkiye remains unhappy over the United States arming Greece.
  • Noting that the Greek Cypriot administration is more peaceful than its predecessors, the Turkish president announced that he would be open to negotiating terms provided that the TRNC’s sovereign equality rights are recognized. He also criticized the European Union for admitting the Greek Cypriot administration despite violating the Annan Plan.
  • It was noteworthy that Erdoğan took a jab at the European Union for keeping Türkiye waiting for five decades: “We will take stock of all those affairs. We must take stock of all that.” Those remarks suggest the country will actively push for visa liberalization and updating the customs union. It also hints at the possibility of Erdoğan frequently criticizing the EU’s position.

To sum up, Türkiye will preserve its “strategic autonomy” and redouble its efforts to promote normalization and stronger relations based on “mutual interests.”

[Daily Sabah, June 17 2023]

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