It was not surprising when the U.S. reimposed sanctions on Iran that it had lifted as a result of the nuclear deal signed by the U.S. and five other countries in June 2015.
President Donald Trump had made it clear during his presidential campaign that the deal was “horrible” and the U.S. would withdraw from it, if he were elected. In May, the U.S. did impose more sanctions in what is regarded by most Middle East analysts as an effort to topple the Iranian government.
Polices intended to topple the Iranian government are meant to weaken Iran’s geopolitical posture in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Afghanistan and Central Asia. Washington thinks Tehran’s presence in those countries diminishes our ability to dominate the Middle East, sustain the flow of oil and natural gas to regional and global markets, and reduces the ability of Israel, allied with the U.S., to influence or dominate the central Middle East and eastern Mediterranean.
It is these polices that threaten the national security interests of Turkey and Iran. Rising tensions between Turkey and the U.S. suggest it will be increasingly difficult to implement Washington’s plan of action, especially against Turkey.
Turkey’s major difference with the U.S. is that Washington supports Kurdish nationalist fighting forces in Syria who are fighting the Islamic State and other jihadists groups.
The Syrian Kurdish forces (SDF) are allied with the PKK, the Kurdish nationalist forces who are at war with the Turkish government. Ankara considers both groups as terrorists, while the U.S. considers only the Kurdish forces in Turkey as terrorists.
As a result of Turkey’s agreeing to let the U.S. and allies use its large Incirlik, and NATO air base, and its close proximity to Iraq and Syria, the U.S. acquiesced in allowing Turkey to bomb Kurdish targets in Turkey, Iraq and Syria.
From 2014 onward, Washington also agreed to Ankara’s support for the Islamic State and other jihadists, even as Washington and its allies were at war with them, because the U.S. and its EU and NATO allies need decent relations with Turkey for a host of geopolitical, military and economic reasons.
The government of President Recep Tayyib Erdogan also thinks that the U.S was complicit in the failed June 15, 2016 military coup against Erdogan during which the coup plotters tried to assassinate him.
Many Turks also think the U.S. cooperated with the coup plotters and that it was masterminded by Fethullah Gulen, an evangelical Muslim priest, who resides in the Pocono Mountains in western Pennsylvania. Gulen is the leader of a Muslim organization with an estimated 4 million adherents.
Turkey has jailed Andrew Burnson, an evangelical Presbyterian minister who has lived and preached in Turkey for the past two decades. Ankara claims that he had ties to the Gulen movement and, hence, would not release him to U.S. authorities unless they agreed to extradite Gulen.
Ankara thinks that Gulen and the coup plotters were in cahoots with the Pentagon and U.S. intelligent agencies and that this is the reason Washington will not extradite him.
If the U.S. continues to impose tariffs on Turkey, which are contributing to the biggest financial crisis in Turkey for decades, it may well result in even closer relations between Ankara and Tehran.
Turkey is already dependent on Iran for 50 percent of its oil imports; more sanctions could well increase that figure.
Then the question may arise, not only, “Who lost Iran”— but, “Who lost Turkey?”
Robert Olson of Lexington is author of “Turkey-Iran Relations, 1979-2004.” He has lived and traveled extensively in Turkey and Iran.