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Turkey’s Iran Strategy

ISTANBUL – Following Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif’s recent visit to the Gulf states, the Islamic Republic’s charm offensive is set to continue with President Hassan Rouhani’s trip to Turkey early next month. Unlike the majority of Iran’s Arab neighbors, Turkey unequivocally welcomed the interim nuclear deal concluded last month between Iran and the P5+1 (the United Nations Security Council’s five permanent members and Germany). But Turkish policymakers are keenly aware that the agreement may upend the Middle East’s fragile balance of power.

From Turkey’s perspective, the nuclear deal, if successfully implemented and made permanent after six months, is set to eliminate a major security concern. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government does not want to be faced with a nuclear Iran, fearing the emergence of an asymmetric power relationship with the Islamic Republic after centuries of balanced ties.

But Turkey also did not want a military intervention in Iran, led by the United States. It was believed that a military strike would create even more problems in terms of regional stability and security. That is why Turkish policymakers have consistently championed a diplomatic solution to the Iranian conundrum, which is what they got with the latest deal.

There are other reasons why Turkish officials have welcomed the interim agreement so warmly. First, they interpret the deal as vindication of their ill-fated effort in May 2010 (together with Brazil) to reach an agreement with Iran on the disposition of Iran’s nuclear fuel. Turkish authorities continue to highlight that earlier tripartite agreement with Iran. The foreign ministry, for example, released a statement noting that, “The agreement…constitutes the first concrete positive development concerning Iran’s nuclear program since the Tehran Declaration of 2010.”