By Huseyin Bagci

The New Anatolian , Turkey
May 2 2006

View: Huseyin Bagci - The Turkish Army's "spring cleaning"
in southeastern Anatolia was last week's main issue besides the
visit by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The visit didn't
produce anything except for talks about a "vision paper" on bilateral
relations, though the Turkish government now needs much more U.S.

support in order to realize "operation crescent," hunting down
Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) terrorists. The Turkish government
indeed made great use of this visit, and when Rice's plane had started
its route to Baghdad, it was clear that she was going to tell the
Iraqi Kurds that they should remain silent about these operations.

Iraqi Kurdish region leader Massoud Barzani's threatening words
directed at Turkey fell upon deaf ears in Ankara, and the Turkish
military went ahead with another operation just like they did in the
'90s. "The more accusations Turkey gets from Barzani and [Jalal]
Talabani, the more Turkey is headed in the right direction," is the
new formula in Ankara.

The U.S. guarantee to Turkey to undertake operations was confirmed
with the visit, and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan as well as
Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul stated that relations between Turkey
and the U.S. are so good that "some will envy" their relationship. It
was not a message for domestic consumption, but rather for the Kurds
and neighboring countries. A new honeymoon period between Turkey and
the U.S. has begun.

Under this framework, Turkey also promised something to the U.S., as
was reflected in public debate about the "visionary talks." Turkey is
keeping one eye closed to the U.S. policy towards Iran. The Iranian
nuclear debate makes it clear that Turkey still remains neutral and
is unwilling to open any airspace or military bases to the U.S. in
case of a U.S. attack on Iran. It seems that a possible U.S.

intervention would cause more damage in the region, and the Iranian
government is aware that it would turn the Middle East into a hell.

The U.S. administration is still looking for international and United
Nations support, but they have yet to receive it. On the other hand,
Iran is getting some other countries, like Azerbaijan, to take a
neutral stance.

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev stated that his country would not
allow the U.S. administration to use any of their military bases or
allow U.S. troops to pass through their territory in order to intervene
in Iran. The reason president Aliyev takes such a clear position is
understandable. Iran is "closer to Azerbaijan," and Moscow doesn't
want a U.S. intervention in Iranian territory. Iran has a natural
shield of neighboring countries who will not risk going against Iran,
which could hit any of its neighboring countries with its military
capabilities. At the moment, both Iran and Azerbaijan are making huge
profits in the oil business. Moreover, both countries have specific
national interests in the Caspian Sea and they would both stand to
lose if Azerbaijan were to take sides.

Yet Azeris do make up a substantial portion of Iranian society, and
the U.S. failed in its attempts over the last two decades to generate
"divide et impera" (divide and rule) ethnic policies in the region.

The U.S. decision makers should know that as historian Professor
Halil Inalcik mentioned in one of his articles, even at the heyday
of the Ottoman Empire the Azeris supported the Iranian shah rather
than the Ottomans, and this is despite the fact that Azeris are also
Turks. This is the "realpolitik" of the history of Azerbaijan.

President Aliyev, like his father who had a similar policy in the
'90s and who even developed a neighborhood policy with Iran, is just
following the historical continuation of Azeri politics. Azerbaijan
is squeezed like a sandwich between Russia and Iran and doesn't have
much room to maneuver. Russia and Iran seem to be on the same side,
and the U.S. policymakers should understand that this region is still
the hinterland of the Russian as well as Iranian empire.

What can the U.S. do in this respect? The U.S. is economically and
militarily present in the Caucasus and Central Asia, but Iran is a
tough nut for any external actor to crack. How long can Iran count
on this reality? It's an open question. Just because the neighboring
countries remain silent, it doesn't mean that they accept Iranian
policies. Certainly that is not the case. The reality is that they
don't like to get involved in this "bilateral hatred" and would rather
remain nonaligned. In other words, they are choosing a third way.

Iran, Turkey and Azerbaijan are doomed to stick together for the
economic and political stability of the region. The Turkish government
still remembers the '90s, when Iran had treaties with Armenia,
Syria and Greece that Turkey saw as a great danger to its national
security. It had to fight PKK terrorism while all of those countries
were supporting the PKK, at least according to official statements
made by Turkey. But now, the old enemies have become new friends,
and Turkish-Iranian relations have enjoyed a golden age ever since
former President Mohammad Khatami came to power eight years ago.

Now, Turkey's choice is still the U.S. and Turkey wouldn't support
Iran if there was an intervention. The Iranian government knows this.

But at the same time, Turkey would prefer non-intervention and a
diplomatic solution while being aware that Iran won't give up its
nuclear program. What to do then? If the U.S. is trying to create a
balance of power towards Iran, they should start a nuclear program
in Turkey. The Turkish government wouldn't reject it. On the contrary
even, the military would welcome it. The fact is that Iran is already
a nuclear power, and after Israel, Turkey is the only alternative to
keep the balance. The Iranians tell the Turks that there has not been
any imbalance since the 1639 Kasr-i Sirin treaty, when Turkey and Iran
negotiated their borders. This is no longer valid. Today, Iran has
changed the balance of power to its own advantage through its policies.

This is why Turkey is also starting to think about how to regain the
balance. U.S. policy should think about other options. When both sides
talk about a "vision paper," then it should probably also contain a
vision of Turkey becoming a nuclear power. This is also the reality
of the day. If Iran goes nuclear, Turkey should not be allowed to
remain a conventional power. A new source of conflict?

Maybe. But Iran should somehow counterbalance for the sake of Turkey's
national security, not necessarily for the sake of the U.S.