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Zero Problem Policy

Turkey achieved a remarkable progress in pursuing the zero problem policy with neighbors such as Iran and Syria in 2009 as part of endeavors to revive its regional influence. The policy by the Turkish government was aimed at maximum cooperation with its neighbors and minimum problems in the region. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu waged a dynamic diplomatic initiative by visiting neighboring Syria three times, Iraq twice and Greece, Georgia and Iran once respectively in 2009. Throughout 2009, Ankara struck new agreements with regional countries and underlined the need of "no problem" in the region. It deepened its relations with Syria, Iraq and other regional countries aside from Israel.

The most significant development in international relations for Turkey was the signing of two protocols in the Swiss city of Zurich in October with Armenia, a country that has no diplomatic or economic ties with Turkey since its independence in 1991. Davutoglu and his Armenian counterpart Eduard Nalbandian signed the two historic protocols to normalize ties and develop relations, which laid a cornerstone for the two neighbors to quench their chronic row.

While the Armenia issue is on the list of Turkey's biggest concern, Iraq also tops the agenda of the Turkish government. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited the war-torn Iraq in October accompanied by nine ministers and signed 48 agreements involving energy, economy, transport, health, education and security. Also, Turkish President Abdullah Gul became the first Turkish president to visit Baghdad in 33 years, in a sign of close relations with Iraq. Suffering a chronic conflict with terrorist organization Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK) from the beginning of 1990s and giving more than 30,000 casualties, Turkey wants Iraq to stop harboring terrorists in its north region and to block any kind of assault towards its territories.

Turkey initiated a new era with Syria in 2009 year. Turkey lifted the visa obligation to visit Syria and the two countries signed 51agreements last year. Davutoglu has said that Turkey and Syria now have a new shared slogan -- "Common Destiny, Common History, Common Future."

Turkey and Iran also signed a number of cooperation agreements, exchanged high level visits and improve their relations day by day. Ankara delivered its support to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at a critical time, particularly after the hotly contested June 2009 presidential elections. Gul and Erdogan were among the first foreign leaders to congratulate Ahmadinejad on his victory, ignoring mass demonstrations and concern of Western leaders over the legitimacy of the election results. Erdogan called the move a "necessity of bilateral relations."

In October, Erdogan exposed divisions in NATO by accusing the West of treating Iran unfairly over its nuclear program and questioning the Western stance toward Israel, which allegedly owns nuclear weapons. "The style with which Iran is approached is not fair because those who accuse Iran of pursuing acquisition of nuclear weapons have very strong nuclear infrastructures and do not deny the fact," the prime minister said. Turkey has voiced its support for Iran in its right to develop peaceful nuclear programs. With its close ties with Tehran, Turkey is keen to mediate between the United States and Iran. During his meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington in December, the Turkish prime minister indicated that Turkey wants to be a broker between the U.S. and Iran, an offer later rejected by Tehran.

But the relations between Turkey and its strategic partner Israel deteriorated after Erdogan denounced Israel at the Davos World Economic Forum for its military operation in the Gaza Strip.

With Turkey's various good neighborhood initiatives oriented towards the Middle East, serious discussions arose over whether Turkey has turned its axis. However, Turkey denied the allegation, saying that Turkey should improve its relations with both West and East countries. Davutoglu said that, "We don't have the luxury to turn against Europe or U.S. or Middle East or Middle Asia. The stronger a country that has a geography like Turkey bows its arrow, the farthest arrow goes towards Europe. Where is the axis? Axis is in Ankara."

As a country that has been suffering problems with its neighbors, Turkey changed its foreign diplomacy courageously in 2009, local analysts said. Although they welcome the ruling AK Party's approach of improving foreign relations since it came to power in 2002, they outlined the potential obstacles standing in Turkey's way to be a regional power.

In 2010, Turkey will face more hurdles from the Armenian government over the Nagorno Karabakh issue, which has the power to be the first real reflection of the zero-problem policy, according to the analysts. On the other hand, elections in Iraq in March 2010 were a critical timeframe for peace considering the PKK issue.

The regions surrounding Iran and Turkey are volatile, complicated and chaotic, and therefore Turkey has a long way to go to institutionalize its influence in these regions, especially in the Middle East. Shuttle diplomacy and negotiations are useful, but the situation is changing. Turkey, which was absent in the Middle Eastin the past decades due to its former foreign policy directed toward the West, cannot revive its Ottoman-type influence in a short term, the observers said.




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