Istanbul’s Tripartite Summit

Published in Turkey
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By Bashir M. Nafi'

On Sunday, 19 May 2010, the Turkish city, Istanbul, hosted a Tripartite Summit which brought together Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Syrian President Bashar al-Asad and Qatar's ruler, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani. Before convening the summit, Mr. Erdogan held separate meetings with both Arab leaders. The holding of the summit came after a short period of planning and preparations of only a few weeks. According to some media sources, several regional issues - including Iran's nuclear ambitions and the situation in Iraq - were addressed at the summit. The brief final statement was articulated in what has come to be known as the "Istanbul Agreement", which expressed support for the Iraqi people's right to decide their political choices in their national election. The statement also expressed the support of both al-Asad and al-Thani for the Turkish stance regarding Iran's nuclear program.

A close examination of the deliberations of the summit shows a correlation between two major issues on its agenda. Turkey, Iran's biggest Muslim neighbour, has chosen not to bow to Western pressures regarding the nuclear ambitions of the latter. Ankara opposes any escalation that might lead to another war in the region. Ankara also demands serious negotiations with Iran over the exchange of low-enriched uranium for high-enriched uranium, which is suitable for civilian purposes. Ankara confirms this exchange as Iran's right as long as its nuclear facilities are monitored by the international community. The Turks have offered for this exchange to take place within Turkish borders.

The Turkish stance might be motivated by different factors, chief among which are the following:

  1. Turkey categorically objects to attacks or war against any Muslim country;

  2. Turkey and Iran share long borders and maintain close economic ties. Turkey will thus be among the first countries negatively affected by the consequences of a war on Iran, should such a war break out; and

  3. Turkish leaders view a war on Iran as a major cause for instability that will severely and deeply affect their country's security and economic interests.

Support for the Turkish stance expressed by President Bashar al-Asad and Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani should be understood as a sign of increasing understanding between the three countries, and as a token of their growing closeness with Iran. Syria and Qatar are understood to be the countries in the region which are closest to Tehran, despite fluctuations in the level of this closeness. The outcome of the summit should also be seen in light of the second issue that was addressed: the political situation in Iraq.

The news that has leaked from the Tripartite Summit indicates that its main objective was to discuss the political climate in Iraq caused by the indecisive outcome of the national elections. Iran plays an influential role in Iraqi Affairs, especially with regard to the Shi'a political forces. It has recently pushed for the union of the two largest Shi'a blocs, the State of Law List and the National Alliance, into a single coalition for the national election. This coalition is seen as an attempt by Iran to prevent the list known as the Iraqiya List, which won the elections with a small margin, from naming the new Prime Minster. This shows that the objective behind the Tripartite Summit of Istanbul was to form a unified standpoint towards the coming Iraqi government.

Since the first announcement of the outcome of the Iraqi elections, Ankara had rushed to establish relations with all the Iraqi political powers, and had even received delegations from them. There are indications, however, that the Iraqiya List, which is a nationalist and non-sectarian coalition that calls for the separation of governance from religious and sectarian affairs, enjoys a special relation with Ankara. The Iraqiya List is also positively perceived by Doha and Damascus, as well as by other Arab countries. The problem lies in the fact that Iran supports the two Shi'a lists and is suspicious of the Iraqiya List and its leadership.

What the summit achieved was to affirm the right of the Iraqiya List to name a prime minister, while stopping short of offering support to any individual as its choice for a prime minister. The problem is that naming a prime minister to lead the coming Iraqi government is not only related to the inability of the Iraqiya List to achieve an outright victory, but also to the fact that Iran fully rejects the possibility of Iyad Allawi heading the Iraqi cabinet. It is believed that the consensus among the three countries on the importance of allowing the Iraqiya List to name the new prime minister was conveyed to the Speaker of Iran's Parliament, Ali Larijani, one of the most influential Iranian officials, who was in Istanbul while the Tripartite Summit was in progress.

Although the summit did not help to finalise the process of naming the next Iraqi prime minister, it achieved other outcomes that cannot be dismissed. The summit reached a consensus regarding the stance of its three participants towards Tehran. This will surely have a positive impact on the current Iraqi political climate by demonstrating support for the formation a new government and the preservation of national stability. It is still unclear, however, whether the relevant political powers in Iraq will agree to such an agreement in the near future, and whether they will work together to implement it in a manner that corresponds to the urgency of the national condition. It is also unclear how much pressure Iran will exercise on its allies inside Iraq to oppose the "Istanbul Agreement".

The initiative of Istanbul's Tripartite Summit and the understanding it reached with Iran regarding the situation in Iraq results in the following indications:

  1. There is an apparent regression of the U.S. role in Iraq, and, thus, a generally diminishing role of the U.S. in the region. This offers the countries of the region increasing space to deal with their problems without foreign intervention.

  2. There is a clear Turkish intention to use the current moment in order to start playing a more positive regional role in various issues, including the stabilisation of Iraq and the preservation of Turkey's national integrity and sovereignty.

  3. There is an increased sense of confidence in the relationship between Iran, on the one hand, and Turkey, Syria, and Qatar, on the other. There is also a growing Iranian understanding that the Iraqi issue is not solely in Tehran's hands, and that it is difficult for Tehran to act on its own with regard to controlling the affairs of Iraq. Moreover, there is also an indication that Iranian unilateral actions regarding Iraq will certainly harm Tehran.

  4. If the Iraqi political powers accept and agree to the Istanbul Agreement, this could be a first serious step towards stabilising Iraq and rebuilding its prosperity. The agreement itself, however, demonstrates the continuation of Iraq's inability to resolve its current political stalemate without assistance from its neighbours. A reason for optimism, however, is that the Iraqiya List is embracing a new type of politics, witnessed for the first time since the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

  5. The approval of the agreement and its implementation will be tantamount to liberating the political sphere in Baghdad from the blackmail of the Kurdish bloc, a bloc that has made collaboration with any other Arab coalition conditional on expansionist Kurdish demands.

* This article is published in terms of a partnership agreement between the Afro-Middle East Centre (AMEC) and the Doha-based Al-Jazeera Centre for Studies. The article was originally published in Arabic by the Al-Jazeera Centre for Studies, and has been translated and republished in English by AMEC.

Last modified on Thursday, 19 February 2015 09:27

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