Iran Rejects Istanbul As Venue For Nuclear Talks, Wants Baghdad
Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was the architect of a" no problems policy" for Turkey. This meant that Turkey would deemphasize her membership in NATO and maintain good relations with her neighbors (hostile relations with Israel forming the obvious exception).
As part of this policy, Turkey attempted to serve as the responsible spokesperson for Sunni Islam and maintain close diplomatic contacts with neighboring Iran who would serve as a spokesperson for Shiite Islam.
This would moderate conflict between the two wings of Islam, while solidifying Turkey's diplomatic status. Iran wanted Turkey as a customer for its oil and a friend in the Sunni camp that could possibly help Teheran evade sanctions.
Part of the Turkish efforts to persuade Iran of Ankara's good intentions was its defense of Iran's "peaceful" nuclear research program.
Turkey also served as the host to the last discussions between Iran and the 5 permanent Security Council members and the Federal Republic of Germany (P5+1). With the announcement that talks would resume, Turkey fully expected to continue playing host to the talks-- a tribute to Turkey's regional importance.
Iran upset the Turks this week by ruling out Istanbul and suggesting Beijing, Beirut, Damascus or Baghdad. The Middle Eastern countries are all ruled by governments friendly to Iran - and China has been using its veto power to slow down sanctions against Iran and serious UN action against the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad.
The Iranians were miffed over Turkey's hosting the Friends of the Syrian People conference that considered ways of backing the insurgents and Syria. Iran's defense minister general Ahmad Vahidi slammed the conference for serving "the Zionist regime of Israel".
Given the fact that "our friends in Turkey have failed to fulfill some of our agreements, the talks... had better be held in another friendly country," said former presidential candidate Mohsen Rezaie who is consolidating his influence at the expense of Mahmoud Ahemedinejad,
Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani called the Istanbul event a "conference to bribe Israel" and said regional nations that described Syria as a dictatorship were no better themselves,
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu also said he had contacted his Iranian counterpart Ali Akbar Salehi to express Ankara's dismay at the comments that "obviously contradicted the deep-rooted relations" between the two countries.
The Turkish daily Zaman quoted a Turkish Middle East expert who claims that Iran was trying to stall the international reactions and gain time to continue its nuclear program. The newspaper is close to the ruling AKP party of Davutoglu and Prime Minister Recep Erdogan.
The divisions over Syria are the main stumbling block in the relations between Turkey and Iran. If Turkey was going to be a leader of Sunni Islam it had to act appropriately in Syria. At the Istanbul conference it was Saudi Arabia and Qatar who suggested buying arms for the Syrian insurgents a development that will sharply change the balance of power between the government and the insurgents. Turkey cannot allow itself to fall behind the Gulf Staes.The United States is also insisting that Turkey participate in the sanctions against Iranian oil.
Turkey is learning a lesson that the superpowers have learned in the Middle East - and the same would apply to budding regional powers.
A no problems diplomacy can work if the region is quiet. Once rivalries begin to surface it becomes much more difficult to be friends with everybody. When Nasser's revolutionary resumed its rivalry with revolutionary Iraq the Soviet Union had to choose between two clients. No problems diplomacy currently faces a real problem.