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Sat. December 15, 2018
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IA-Forum Interview: Dr. Bulent Aliriza, CSIS
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International Affairs Forum: How would you describe current relations between the US and Turkey? Dr. Bulent Aliriza: The difficulties in the relationship after the recent congressional vote on the Armenian genocide resolution show that there is still the possibility of serious disagreements despite past assertions to the contrary by both sides. IA-Forum: What efforts can be undertaken by both parties to strengthen bilateral relations? Dr. Aliriza: They have to acknowledge that their interests will not always coincide. They should continue to work on maximizing areas of agreement while trying to contain areas of disagreement. IA-Forum: A 2009 Gallup Poll suggests a majority of Turks (51%) disapprove of US “Job performance and Leadership.” Thus given the relative unpopularity of US policy combined with the growing influence of Turkish civil government; is it possible for the US and Turkey to return to the close cooperation characterized by the years of Turkish military dominance? Dr. Aliriza: The close cooperation in the Cold War era was a product of mutual interest vis a vis the Soviet Union. The post Cold War era which is still continuing is going to be characterized by less intimate cooperation interspersed by disagreements. IA-Forum: How would you characterize the current state of Turkish-Iranian relations? Dr. Aliriza: Although the Turkish secular state and the Iranian Islamic republic would appear to be the antithesis of each other, their shared border, close commercial relations and a mutual interest in continuing the modus vivendi that has characterized the relationship of the Turkish and Persian states for over 300 years serves to effectively limit the dangers from serious disagreement and confrontation. IA-Forum: To what extent would you say Turkey’s growing relationship with Iran and other Middle Eastern states is a result of stalled efforts to join the European Union? Dr. Aliriza: Only to a limited extent. Turkey wishes to serve as a bridge and a link between the Western world (including the EU) and the Middle East and the wider Islamic world which it simultaneously belongs to. IA-Forum: What positive effects, if any, would a robust democracy in Turkey have on Iran? Dr. Aliriza: Unclear. Just as the Iranian Islamic Republic model has limited appeal for most Turks, the Turkish secular democratic model may have a limited appeal for most Iranians. IA-Forum: Due to proximity, security threats, and trade benefits; which is a wiser policy choice: close cooperation with the US or maintaining a stable, peaceful relationship with Iran? Is it possible for Turkey to have both? Dr. Aliriza: In an ideal world Turkey would like to balance both. IA-Forum: How much of a threat is a nuclear armed Iran to Turkey, particularly in comparison to Islamist and Kurdish insurgents or Iraqi instability? Dr. Aliriza: Turkey has declared its opposition to the acquisition of nuclear weapons by Iran. IA-Forum: If Turkey agrees to sanctions, would that effectively deter Iran’s nuclear ambitions? Dr. Aliriza: Highly unlikely. While trade with Turkey is important to Iran, Turkish participation in sanctions - while important in the implementation of new sanctions - is not sufficient by itself to deter Iran. IA-Forum: Moreover, what negative effects, if any, would sanctions have on Turkey itself? Dr. Aliriza: When Turkey participated in sanctions against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, it incurred substantial costs. This would also be the case with Iranian sanctions. IA-Forum: Can the US effectively impose new sanctions on Iran without Turkish cooperation? Why? Dr. Aliriza: The US desire to ensure Turkish participation on new sanctions on Iran clearly demonstrates that effective sanctions require Turkey’s participation. IA-Forum: What can the US realistically do to “win” Turkish cooperation for new sanctions on Iran? Dr. Aliriza: As further pressure on Turkey is likely to irritate and even anger the Turkish public as well as the Turkish government, the US needs to be careful not to further endanger US-Turkish cooperation in other areas. IA-Forum: If American efforts to persuade Turkey to agree to sanctions fail, what will that mean to the future relations between the two states? Dr. Aliriza: A major disagreement between the two countries on new sanctions, particularly at the UNSC where Turkey is currently a non-permanent member, would undoubtedly have a negative impact on the relationships between the two countries. IA-Forum: Conversely, should Turkey agree to US sanctions, is that the end of positive Turkish-Iranian relations? Dr. Aliriza: The Turkish-Iranian relationship would no doubt survive if Turkey agrees to support and implement new sanctions for the same reasons that have ensured its continuation for over three centuries. However, there would undoubtedly be tensions between Ankara and Tehran. IA-Forum: What can Iran do to dissuade Turkey from cooperating with the US? Dr. Aliriza: Iran is already using what it claims is its ‘flexibility’ on its nuclear program, its willingness to utilize Turkish ‘good offices’ between itself and the US and, in a more general way, Turkey’s desire to ensure fairness towards a fellow Muslim state to try to get continued Turkish support for itself. IA-Forum: Outside of the US and Iran, are there any other actors that can influence whether or not Turkey will support sanctions? If so, who are they and what can they do? Dr. Aliriza: No. Dr. Aliriza has lectured widely in the United States as well as in Turkey and is a frequent media commentator on Turkish and Caspian energy issues. His articles and commentaries have appeared in the Washington Post, New York Times, International Herald Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Christian Science Monitor, and other major publications. He has also made many appearances on CNN, PBS, C-SPAN, and the BBC, as well as on numerous other U.S., European, and Turkish media outlets. He is the host of a current affairs discussion program from Washington on Turkish Radio and Television (TRT) called Beyond the Atlantic. Prior to joining CSIS, Aliriza was a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Earlier, he served as a Turkish Cypriot diplomat in New York and Washington. He has a B.Sc. in international relations from the London School of Economics and Political Science and a doctorate in diplomatic history from the University of Oxford.

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