On April 15 an Iranian delegation arrived in Turkey to finalize a security convention that has been in the planning stages for the last two to three years and for discussions on joint measures against Kurdish PKK and PJAK guerrillas based in northern Iraq. The 12th Iran-Turkey High Security Commission meetings are in accordance with an agreement concluded by Iran and Turkey on border security in August 1999 (Islamic Republic News Agency, April 15). The last bilateral meeting concerning joint security measures against PKK and PJAK guerrilla attacks was held in 2006, prior to Turkey’s limited incursion into northern Iraq in February against the PKK based there (Sabah, April 15).
Shortly before their arrival Iran’s Deputy Interior Minister for Security and Political Affairs Abbas Mohtaj said in Tehran that the three nations “have put into practice” a series of bilateral security agreements (Iranian Students News Agency, April. 14).
The other officials attending the meetings at the Turkish Ministry of Internal Affairs in Ankara underscore the importance that Tehran attaches to the meetings. In addition to Mohtaj, the Iranian delegation includes Interior Ministry Chief Advisor Resul Hosseyini, Deputy General Director for Border Security Reza Sutudeh, Iranian embassy counselor Sabir Ghasemi, security expert Mohammed Ishaki and senior Security Directorate official Zerrih Kolah.
In an interesting historical sidelight, the Iranian delegation visited Ankara’s Beypazari museum and examined an old Ottoman map, bringing their hosts’ attention to the fact that except for 1639, when the Treaty of Qasr-i Shirin was concluded, there has been no change in the Turkish-Iranian border.
According to Mohtaj, Iranian officials will travel to Saudi Arabia next month for similar discussions (Fars News Agency, April 14). In May a Saudi security delegation will make a reciprocal visit to Iran to discuss expanding security cooperation and conclude security agreements between the two nations.
In a veiled criticism of what Iran believes is unilateral U.S. military intervention in the Middle East, Mohtaj told reporters at a press conference prior to his departure for Turkey that only international security cooperation is capable of producing a lasting regional peace and provide security (Tehran Times, April 14). The bilateral security discussions with two significant Middle Eastern U.S. allies represent a significant weakening of Washington’s regional efforts to isolate Iran.
For Washington, the worst-case scenario that might emerge from the Iranian-Turkish discussions would be joint action into northern Iraq against the PKK and PJAK. That the meetings are occurring at all is an implicit criticism of the failure of U.S. efforts after five years to neutralize the two guerrilla groups.
Nor, apparently, are the Turkish military’s concerns limited to its anti-guerrilla efforts in northern Iraq. On April 14 Turkish Chief of General Staff General Yasar Buyukanit paid a four-day official visit to Egypt for meetings with Egyptian Minister of Defense Mohamed Hussein Tantawi Soliman (Sabah, April 14). Buyukanit is visiting Cairo at the invitation of President Hosni Mubarak. This is the first invitation for an official visit from a foreign president (Milliyet, April 15). Besides meeting with Mubarak and Tantawi, Buyukanit is also scheduled to hold discussions with Lieutenant General Sami Enan, Chief-of-Staff of the Egyptian Armed Forces. While no agenda for the meetings has been released, it seems likely that discussions will cover not only Iraq, but also the turmoil in Gaza, Israel’s policy on the West Bank and the gridlock in the U.S.-sponsored “roadmap to peace” for resolving the Palestinian-Israeli dispute.
While the flurry of diplomatic and military visits demonstrates that Turkey is amenable to reworking its bilateral security arrangements with its neighbors, anxieties in Washington should be ameliorated somewhat by the fact that crisis management officers from the Turkish Prime Ministry and the General Staff will participate in NATO’s CMX-2008 annual exercise beginning on April 16 and scheduled to last for six days (Anadolu Ajansi, April 15). According to NATO, “The exercise is designed to practice Alliance crisis management procedures at the strategic political level and will involve civilian and military staffs in national capitals, at NATO Headquarters, and in both Strategic Commands. Unlike a live exercise, however, no forces are actually used in these exercises” (NATO press release 053).
Turkey’s participation in the CMX-2008 exercise is proof, if any were needed, that its commitment to its NATO responsibilities remains strong. What is equally clear from the recent tempo of bilateral security discussions, however, is that Turkey’s patience is wearing thin on the lack of progress in Washington’s Middle East agenda. If the United States remains unable to forge ahead on issues of vital concern in the Middle East, then NATO might soon see the CMX-2008 scenario of “a progressively deteriorating security situation beyond the Euro-Atlantic area” yet come to pass, in which case Ankara’s initiatives would appear more prudent and prophylactic than provocative.