Categories: Politics

Turkish foreign policy in trouble: From Iran to Sweden’s NATO bid

The troubles in Turkish foreign policy are increasing. Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan is seen at the November 28 NATO meeting with (from right to left) NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Greek Foreign Minister Georgios Gerapetritis and Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billström. (Photo: X-Foreign Ministry)

Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan has already told in his speect to Turkish Grand National Assembly last week that the 2024 will be difficult for Türkiye. To the existing problems in foreign policy, Iran may have been added to the troubles he addressed.

On his return from the joint summit of Islamic countries in Riyadh on November 11, President Tayyip Erdoğan said that Iranian President Ibrahim Reisi would visit Türkiye on November 28 and that they would discuss what could be done together on the Gaza crisis. However, Reisi did not come on November 28. Neither Tehran nor Ankara made an official statement on his absence.

The most plausible interpretation is that in his telephone conversation with Erdoğan on November 26, Reisi suggested that they postpone the visit until after the UN Security Council meeting on Gaza and discuss the latest situation. Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan is also expected to meet with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdullahiyan in New York and both are expected to brief their respective leaders.

However, the statement issued by the Communications Directorate on the Erdogan-Reisi phone call does not say why the visit did not take place, only that it will be discussed at the High Level Cooperation meeting to be held soon in Türkiye.

Did Fidan ensured Sweden’s NATO accession?

While in New York, Fidan will also attend a separate meeting on Gaza with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken as a member of the joint Organization of Islamic Cooperation and Arab League Foreign Ministers Committee, which was formed at the Riyadh Summit. The committee has already met with the foreign ministers of China, Russia, Britain and France, the five veto-wielding permanent members of the UN Security Council; the US is the last link in the chain.

The foreign minister also met with his US counterpart the day before, at the NATO Foreign Ministers meeting in Brussels on November 28. Anadolu Agency quoted Fidan’s statement before the meeting saying that “they had met a while ago in Ankara and he hoped it would be useful”. The statement after the meeting came from the US State Department that the ministers “discussed the conflict in Gaza, including efforts to secure further releases of hostages held by Hamas and the need to ensure the sustained delivery of humanitarian assistance” adding that Blinken “reiterated” that “Sweden’s NATO membership should happen as soon as possible”.

Fidan had gone to the NATO meeting to emphasize Gaza, but Sweden came to the fore. Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billström even claimed that Fidan had ensured him that Sweden’s membership would be approved by the Turkish Parliament “within weeks”. According to official sources, who spoke anonymously, Fidan said it was “at the discretion of the Parliament”. I wonder if he gave his own estimate on the timeframe, there is no information on that.

The knot in foreign policy: Gaza, F-16, Sweden

Interestingly, in the same statement in which the Swedish minister claimed to have received an ensurance from Fidan he also said that they were aware of the link between their NATO membership and the US sale of F-16s to Türkiye. However, even if Ankara approves Sweden’s NATO membership, Ankara is not confident that the Joe Biden administration will be able to overcome the Congressional hurdle ahead of the November 2024 presidential elections. Türkiye’s efforts to persuade Germany to buy Eurofighter Typhoon fighters, jointly produced by Germany, Britain, Spain, Italy and Italy (in order to fill NATO’s southern flank deficit), are not on the table at the moment due to the Israel-Hamas polemic with German Chancellor Olaf Scholtz in Berlin on November 17, in which he also brought the Holocaust into the hurdle.

The crisis, which began on October 7 when Hamas attacked Israel and killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and continues with Israel’s retaliatory killing of 14,000 people, mostly civilians, in Gaza, has exacerbated the problems in Turkish foreign policy.

The Gaza crisis, Sweden’s membership in NATO and the purchase of fighter jets for Türkiye’s defense are tied in knots. If Fidan cannot untie the knot, it will take an Alexander to cut it.

Murat Yetkin


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