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Nov 08 2018

Iran sanctions could accelerate Turkey's drift east - analyst

Political scientists Colin P. Clarke and Ariane M. Tabatabai wrote an important article in Foreign Affairs on Wednesday arguing that Turkey's drift away from the United States and toward Russia and Iran has intensified since the killing of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Tabatabai, a Middle East expert at the Rand Corporation told Ahval's Ilhan Tanir she expects a greater shift by Turkey towards Russia and Iran, and a wider gulf between the West and Turkey in the next two years. 

However, she said, "Turkey wants to have a cake and eat it too," meaning Ankara will still want to stay in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation at the same time it forms tighter relations with Russia and Iran that allow it to pursue its own interests outside NATO. 

The primary reason for Ankara's shift is President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's move to the presidency in 2014 and the ensuing consolidation of power under him, which has moved Turkey away from founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk's secularist vision and empowered more Muslim conservative elements, Tabatabai and Clarke argued.

Tabatabai told Ahval that the Trump administration's role in terms of Turkey's realignment has been limited. The murder of Khashoggi does not seem to be changing the current course of realignment, and it seems despite the international pressure placed on him for his presumed part in the killing, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman will likely retain his position, Tabatabai said. 

Meanwhile, she added, U.S. threats of sanctions have been a rallying cry for Russians and Iranians for some time, and Turkey may well take a sympathetic stance to the Iranians in this respect.

The international discomfort at this round of U.S. sanctions has left the United States much more isolated, and their economic impact could be a another factor to nudge Turkey out of Western orbit, Tabatabai said.