During the past week, the global press has enjoyed a multimedia feast over the comments about Iran made by France's Foreign Affairs Minister, Bernard Kouchner. While these remarks were subsequently tempered by the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, this week's exchange nonetheless underscores the increasing weight that the Iran-question currently receives in diplomatic and political circles outside of Washington.
The press in Turkey has also been following this story quite closely, which is only natural for a country that borders on the pariah-nation in question. What has particularly puzzled this observer is the general absence of Turkey's political elite in the overall international dialog related to Iran and its potential development of nuclear weapons. While there does seem to have been discussion between Ankara and Washington concerning the Bush Administration's view that Turkey should freeze all trade with Iran, there has been little proactive commentary about the Iranian issue on the behalf of Ankara. Such relative silence on the part of Erdoğan and Gül would seem to be misguided for two main reasons.
Even a limited military attack on Iran would most likely have disastrous effects on the relatively fragile Turkish economy. In addition to losing its direct trade with Iran, the Turkish economy depends on increasing future levels of foreign investment in order continue its positive growth trends during the coming years. Needless to say, investors will be very reluctant to sink meaningful amounts of capital into Turkey if Iran is launching missiles through Turkish airspace as a retaliatory measure.
Moreover, the Turkish economy has come to rely on the flow of natural gas from Iran during the past two decades. A military action against the country would clearly necessitate the cessation of this supply and force Turkey to further rely on Russia for its energy needs.
The second important concern related to Ankara's silence is related to how Turkey views itself as a regional player. The now cliche reference to Turkey functioning as Europe's bridge to the Middle East and Asia would suggest that Turkey is consistently active in the affairs of the region. While Iran and Turkey do have very clear religious and cultural differences, the current drama in Iran would seem to be a perfect opportunity for Turkey to show the world its ability to act as a regional facilitator.
Although this observer does not believe in the practical value of "Camp David-style" political summits, which are meant to reconcile the differences between two foes through a series of photo opportunities, it would seem that Turkey could gain incredibly valuable recognition by demonstrating its ability to play such a role.
Instead, it appears that Turkey is content to remain in the shadows of the West instead of embracing this looming disaster as a potential diplomatic extravaganza. Such opportunities are few and far between. Turkey's unwillingness to seize the initiative in this scenario ultimately communicates a rather petty self-image in regard to its involvement in the region.