ANKARA (Today’s Zaman)—Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday ruled out any shift in Turkey’s foreign policy orientation in the wake of a crisis with Israel over Gaza and increasing rapprochement with neighboring Iran, accused by the West of harboring aspirations to develop nuclear weapons.
Erdogan, speaking during a visit to Tehran, said Turkey will not sacrifice its relations with the West for the sake of building alliances with the East.
Erdogan’s visit to Tehran, during which he defended Iran’s nuclear program as peaceful and announced a deal to explore natural gas in Iran’s South Pars basin, has added to Western concerns that Turkey might be forsaking its alliance with the West to pursue a leadership role in its neighborhood.
The visit came two weeks after Turkey barred Israel from a NATO exercise, citing concerns over Israel’s continued blockade of Gaza despite the humanitarian tragedy. Diplomatic relations between Turkey and Israel have suffered since Israel’s offensive in the Gaza Strip last winter, in which Erdogan accused Israel of committing crimes against humanity by killing more than 1,300 Palestinians.
In Tehran, the prime minister was reminded of the fact that he had walked out of a January meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, after a heated exchange with Israeli President Shimon Peres, telling him, “When it comes to killing, you know very well how to kill.” He was asked whether his reaction in Davos and his criticism of Israel was aimed at diverging from the West and moving closer to the East.
“The incident there [in Davos] was a spontaneous development which was not planned beforehand. It would be wrong to consider our stance there as an objection to the West. We’ve been exerting efforts to improve our relations with both the West and the East in the best way. One side of Turkey’s face is looking to the West, and the other to the East,” Erdogan said, drawing attention to Turkey’s membership in NATO and its ongoing membership process to enter the European Union as well as its structure of being a democratic, secular state ruled by law.
Erdogan also noted that Turkey would continue its ongoing bilateral relations with Israel as based on the principle of “rightness,” and without accepting any pressure on its own political will.
In Ankara, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Burak Ozugergin on Wednesday described Turkey’s reaction to Israel as being “in an entirely humanitarian dimension,” reiterating Turkey’s expectation of Israel to end the months-long humanitarian tragedy in Gaza.
“We want the situation in Gaza to be straightened out. Wanting this should not be seen as hostility towards Israel. This is a humanitarian situation,” Ozugergin said, highlighting that the strength of Turkish-Israeli relations had been tested in the past and it would not break because of occasional fluctuations. When asked about concerns over the direction of Turkey’s foreign policy, the spokesperson said foreign policy should not be regarded as “a zero-sum game.”
“Turkey is expanding its relations; it’s not changing its direction. Our axis is obvious. I guess people can’t get rid of the Cold War mentality. Turkey may be extremely good friends with Syria, Iraq, Iran, Russia, Georgia and Armenia, with Greece or Bulgaria as well. This is neither against NATO nor can it be considered as a stance against any other country or a group of countries. We have to get rid of such limiting paradigms,” he said, rejecting any geopolitical shifts.
Meanwhile, in Tehran, Erdogan said his visit wasn’t aimed at mediating between Iran and the United States where he will visit in the first week of December.
During Erdogan’s visit, Iranian and Turkish authorities agreed to boost ties and conduct bilateral trade in their own currencies. “The two countries should use their own currencies in bilateral trade,” Iranian First Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi said during a meeting of an Iranian-Turkish chamber of commerce, adding that Iran had already started to use Turkish currency in trade with its neighbor.
Turkey has made the relevant legal arrangements and since there is no legal obstacle from the Iranian side either, studies on the issue can be launched shortly, Erdogan said.