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Turkey as an international mediator: opportunities and pitfalls

Pinar Tank, 13 July 2011

Since the Helsinki Summit of the European Union (EU) Council granted Turkey ‘candidate country’ status in 1999 and the Justice and Development Party (AKP) won the elections in 2002, Turkey has undergone significant shifts in both its domestic and foreign policies. While in its first period in power the AKP’s focus was on drawing Turkey closer to the EU and the domestic reform agenda, the second period has witnessed a shift towards a more proactive regional role and a reformulation of Turkey’s foreign policy. Under the AKP, Turkey has increasingly been regarded as a model for the successful coupling of the country’s Islamic national identity with secular state government. This shift in the Turkish state’s cultural identity contributes to its soft power. However, Turkey’s turn to the Middle East had already begun in the 1980s with the liberalisation of the Turkish economy and the consequent need for new markets, followed by the search for geopolitical relevance in the post-cold war period. The AKP’s role in the Middle East – engaging Iran, opening the border with Syria and building ties with Iraq – while thrusting the country onto the world stage as an international mediator has also raised questions regarding Turkey’s ties to the West. A side effect of Turkey’s Middle Eastern role is the deterioration of its relations with Israel, particularly following the Gaza war in 2008–09 and as a result of the aid flotilla crisis of June 2010. Turkey’s pro-Palestinian stance, while winning hearts in the Arab world, limits its ambitions as an international mediator. An even greater test of Turkey’s regional aspirations is the challenge of dealing with the instabilities resulting from the Arab Spring.

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