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Opinion:
Murat YETKIN

Murat YETKIN
Editor in chief, Hürriyet Daily News

Turkey loses ground in the Middle East and East Mediterranean

Le 27-11-2013

Turkey’s National Security Board (MGK) has not only discussed Syria and Iraq and the Kurdish issue during its Oct. 28 bi-monthly meeting, as it was said in the press release afterwards.

According to high rank sources talking to HDN, one of the main issues discussed was Turkey’s national interests in the light of new energy sources, mainly natural gas found in the East Mediterranean. With projections showing liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals and transportation would become more expensive with respect to pipeline transportation, following the new shale gas production technology promoted by the U.S., Turkish officials point out that the cheapest and safest way to transport East Mediterranean gas to European markets would be pipelines through Turkey. One ranking source described the analysis as follows: “Imagine, the island of Cyprus divides the map of East Med into Northern and Southern halves. The northern part is under our maritime influence and the south is Egypt’s. We have to find a way to work this out.”

Now with this information, President Abdullah Gül’s address to the Atlantic Council in Istanbul on Nov. 21 makes even more sense. Without mentioning country names, Gül was criticizing the Europe Union for not opening the energy chapter of membership negotiations because of the Greek Cypriot embargo.

He said that in addition to new pipelines planned from Azerbaijan and Iraq, including the Kurdish region, Turkey was ready to facilitate pipelines carrying East Mediterranean pipelines to Europe.

There is nothing wrong so far, but the problem starts exactly at this point. The new gas fields in East Mediterranean are under control of Egypt, Israel and Republic of Cyprus. The Turkish government has serious political problems with all Greek Cypriot, Israeli and now Egyptian governments – perhaps no need to mention absent diplomatic relations with another East Mediterranean government, Syria.

It is obvious that Ankara has to enhance its relations with other capitals in the Middle East and East Mediterranean for its national interests; especially for economic and strategic reasons. In a new atmosphere where Iran, as one of the main oil and gas players in the region and the main pole of Shiite, rather non-Sunni Islamic politics has come to an agreement with P5+1 countries over its nuclear program, better political relations between its region and Europe becomes more vital for Turkey.

But Cyprus is not the only problem and the other three arose in the last three years of Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development (AK Parti) government. Despite the quick rise and fall of the Arab Spring, Erdoğan wants to address the Arab street directly, ignoring their governments in parallel with his “policy of principles,” or ideology-based diplomacy, which could only find a limited echo in the pious Sunni street. That caused a reaction among the governments in the region as the recent move of Egypt by downgrading relations and expelling the Turkish ambassador showed. It would not be correct to put the responsibility on Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s shoulders only; not only because the Turkish Foreign Ministry and Presidency are apparently trying their best to normalize the atmosphere, but also because the Prime Minister’s close aides and he are playing a greater role in Turkey’s foreign policy.

Gül is right when pointing out that the forming of a transportation axis between the Middle East and East Mediterranean to Europe via pipelines through Turkey is in both Turkish national interests and would help European energy security. It should be noted on the other hand that the Turkish government better shift back from its diplomacy with an ideological focus for its national interests, which is causing it to lose ground in this region which has prior importance for the country.

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