Iran’s Mehr News Agency published an interview with me today. The interview was conducted by e-mail in English, but the article appeared in Farsi. I am posting here the English-language e-mail interview:
Mehr: After the coup, President Erdogan announced Turkey would change its foreign policy. Do you believe that Turkey’s foreign policy will change?
Katz: President Erdogan seemed to be in the process of changing Turkish foreign policy before the coup attempt anyway, but he has accelerated this change since then. The main outlines of this policy seem to be a move away from America and Europe and toward Russia and, to a certain extent, Iran. Although Erdogan is still calling for the departure of Bashar Assad from Damascus, he is clearly de-emphasizing this goal and prioritizing the weakening of the Syrian Kurds instead. Still, a Turkish “move toward Russia” does not mean an alliance with Russia—with which Turkey has long had many differences, including over the Armenia-Azerbaijan dispute. These differences will not disappear.
Mehr: Ben Ali Yildirim , the Turkish Prime Minister said, Russia can if necessary, have the use of Incirlik base. Will these statements damage Turkey’s relations with NATO?
Katz: Such statements will indeed damage Turkey’s relations with NATO. I think that it would be very difficult for NATO and Russian forces to share the same air base. This statement may be more intended to motivate America and Europe to adopt policies that please Ankara rather than to signal an actual invitation to Russia. Even if there is a wider breakdown in Turkey’s relations with the West and U.S. forces end up leaving Incirlik, it is not clear that Turkey would really want forces from Russia to replace them.
Mehr: Now that relations between Tehran and Turkey have improved after the military coup [attempt], can it be helpful in solving the Syrian crisis?
Katz: Turkish-Iranian relations have generally been good, except with regard to Syria. To the extent that Erdogan is no longer actively seeking the departure of Assad from Syria, the prospects for Iranian-Turkish cooperation will increase. They appear to have common interests with regard to the Kurds also. And to the extent that Erdogan now realizes that Sunni jihadists such as ISIS are actually a threat to Turkey, this may provide an additional common interest for Turkey to cooperate with Iran as well as Russia on. Yet even if Turkish policy on Syria is moving closer to Iran’s and Russia’s, it is not clear that this will help resolve the Syrian crisis. There are, after all, real differences between the Assad regime and its domestic opponents. Further, these opponents seem quite likely to continue fighting—especially since there are other countries that continue to support them.
Mehr: Fethullah Gülen’s extradition—would the US now give him over to Turkey? And if not, what will be the consequences for relations between Turkey and the US?
Katz: It is highly unlikely that the U.S. will ever extradite Fethullah Gulen to Turkey. Ankara does not seem to have the sort of hard evidence needed to convince the American courts that Gulen was behind the coup attempt. I, for one, do not think he was, and that Ankara is merely using the coup attempt (which appears to have been based within the Turkish security services) to label all Erdogan’s opponents (real and imagined) as “Gulenists” in order to get rid of them.
And this could have serious consequences for U.S.-Turkish relations. Erdogan has made clear that he really wants Gulen extradited. The U.S. will not accede to this. Erdogan may then decide to take drastic action, such as withdraw Turkey from NATO. Perhaps Erdogan wants to do this anyway, and is merely using the Gulen case as a pretext for arousing popular indignation within Turkey against the U.S. (where there is widespread belief that America and Europe actually supported the coup attempt).
The U.S. does not want to see Turkey leave NATO, but would be unable to stop it. Russia, of course, would be quite happy to see any country withdraw from NATO. Still, a Turkey led by Erdogan that is outside of NATO may not pursue a quiet foreign policy, but attempt to assert itself as a regional great power instead. Turkey’s neighbors (including Iran) may find Ankara much more difficult to deal with if its policies are not constrained by being a member of NATO.