We know President Obama prides himself on the close relationship he has developed with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. If you listen to administration sources, despite Turkey’s attempt to sabotage Middle East peace, Erdoğan is part of the powerful international coalition the president has assembled to pressure Iran to give up its quest for nuclear capability. But it’s not clear how they can spin Erdoğan’s trip to Tehran this week. Meeting with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran, Erdoğan not only defended Iran’s right to nuclear research, he made common cause with the Islamist regime on their response “to the arrogance of the Western countries.”
Earlier today, Emanuele Ottolenghi speculated as to whether Erdoğan was taking a message to Tehran on behalf of his friend in the White House. But if that is true, neither the message nor its reply seems to be anything that should reassure the world that the Iranians are about to back down. If anything, the visit and the successful trade negotiations between Iran and Turkey appear to make it clear that Obama’s diplomatic coalition is a house of cards. Even worse, the Iranians know it.
Iran is scheduled to begin a new round of talks with the European Union-led group that is seeking to find a way to keep President Obama’s “diplomatic window” with Tehran open. The Europeans and the Americans have both stated they will not allow this latest opening to be used as a delaying tactic by the Iranians. But the Iranians are giving every indication they are prepared to call the West’s bluff about an oil embargo. By securing ongoing trade relationships with Turkey and China, Iran hopes to weather the storm should the Europeans and Americans make good on their threat of imposing the tough sanctions they have talked about for years but never enforced.
While Obama has boasted of his success in isolating Iran, events such as Erdoğan’s visit to Tehran gives the lie to the notion that the coalition he has assembled actually means business. More to the point, so long as Iran can count on its neighbor Turkey and an economic dynamo such as China to continue to trade with it, it need not worry about the consequences of continuing to stall the West on the nuclear issue.
The president is thought to have achieved a tacit understanding with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu that diplomacy be given more time to work before they consider a pre-emptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Whether that is true or not, the spectacle of Obama’s close friend embracing Ahmadinejad and promising to work together with him to thwart the West’s “arrogance” ought to give pause to anyone who continues to buy into the administration’s optimism about diplomacy. With Turkey beside them, the Iranians, who have always doubted Obama’s resolve, may believe they have little to fear.