This article was published in Arab News on August 19, 2018.
US must face consequences of worsening Turkish ties
The US’ attempt to revoke the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action — commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal — is a deviation from the established practices of international law. Any party to a multilateral agreement does, of course, have the inherent right to withdraw if it feels that the agreement does not cater for its national interests, but it has no right to force the other parties to do the same.
The JCPOA was agreed after 20 months of long, laborious negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council — China, France, Russia, the UK and the US — plus Germany) and the EU. It did not give full satisfaction to all parties, but all eight agreed to it as a compromise.
The states party to the JCPOA refused to follow the US’ decision to withdraw and instead announced that they would continue to honor the agreement. The EU said the US sanctions against Iran were null and void for EU companies. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said on May 17 that the EU had decided to allow the European Investment Bank to facilitate European companies’ investments in Iran and that the Commission would continue to cooperate with Tehran.
When the US could not secure the revocation of the JCPOA, it imposed unilateral sanctions and introduced restrictions for foreign companies that do business with Iran. It will implement these restrictions by blocking the dollar transactions that have to pass through US banks.
The dollar’s role as a reserve currency has always caused discontent with countries that conduct their commercial transactions using the dollar, because it provides the US government with “monetary seigniorage” power. Washington earns from the circulation of dollars in international markets, while the real actors of this circulation get nothing. This is a strong tool in Washington’s hands to influence international relations, in addition to the political dominance it enjoys because of its superpower status.
By threatening Turkey and insisting it abides by sanctions on Iran, the US is further pushing its NATO ally toward cooperation with Tehran.
The Trump administration’s assertive “America first” policy has caused an erosion of trust in the dollar. Russia and China gave the first signals of this erosion and other countries may join them.
Turkey is another case. The US asked Turkey to abide by its unilateral sanctions against Iran, but Ankara refused because Iran is an important trade partner. Turkey annually imports about 10 billion cubic meters of gas from Iran through a pipeline that has been operational for 18 years. The Turkish part of the pipeline cost $600 million and such an investment would remain idle if the flow of gas is suspended. Furthermore, there is a long tradition of stable relations between Turkey and Iran, so Ankara has every reason for refusing to upset them.
Turkey and Iran are cooperating closely in Syria within the framework of the Sochi/Astana process, though they are not always on the same page. In certain chapters of the Syrian crisis they have conflicting interests; but, in line with their centuries-old experience of cohabitation, they have the capacity to work out a modus vivendi.
The case of Pastor Andrew Brunson has become a flashpoint in US-Turkey ties, but in reality the reasons for the worsening of relations are more complex. Turkey’s purchase of the Russian S-400 air defense system; the US banning the delivery to Turkey of sophisticated F-35 fighter aircraft; and, lately, the Trump administration’s hurtful attitude toward Turkey are the other components of the Ankara-Washington disagreement. Brunson’s case is more visible because it is linked to US domestic politics.
On the Turkish side of the crisis, Ankara is insistently demanding the extradition of Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish cleric living in Pennsylvania, and is fiercely opposed to the US assistance given to the Kurdish fighters of the People’s Protection Units (YPG).
The US demand for Turkey to join the sanctions on Iran has now become a controversial issue because the two sides’ positions are more sharpened after the US started to unleash new threats.
Turkey would have declined Washington’s demand even if the Brunson crisis had not broken out. Now that relations are going from bad to worse, Ankara has additional reasons for not abiding by the US sanctions. Additionally, the more Turkey’s economy deteriorates, the more it will need Iran’s cooperation. By threatening Turkey, the US is further pushing it toward cooperation with Tehran.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned the US that Turkey may start looking for new friends and allies if Washington does not reverse its trends of unilateralism and disrespect. It is difficult to tell which countries Erdogan had in mind as potential alternative allies or whether Iran was among them. Even if he did not have Iran in mind at that time, he may now include it for the sake of embarrassing the US. When one stretches relations to that extent, one has to be ready to bear the consequences.