Iran Sanctions and Turkey’s Brunson Headache

August 10, 2018

The JCPOA was finalized by Iran and the P5+1 on July 14, 2015. Six days later the UN Security Council voted unanimously to endorse the agreement and “terminate” all prior UN sanctions subject to re-imposition through a snapback mechanism. High level visits to Tehran immediately started. The first to arrive was German Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel. He was followed by EU’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius. These were months before the IAEA certified that Iran had fulfilled her obligations under the JCPOA and the US and the EU lifted their nuclear-related oil and financial sanctions against Iran. President Hassan Rouhani described the achievement as a “golden page” in his country’s history opening new windows for Iran’s engagement with the world. It was hoped that the deal would end decades of hostile relations between Tehran and Washington.

The “golden page” referred to by President Rouhani was opened with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) officially certifying that Iran had fulfilled its obligations under the JCPOA and the US and the EU lifting the nuclear-related oil and financial sanctions against Iran.

Has all of that become history with Washington’s withdrawal from the JCPOA and its restoring of Iran sanctions? Perhaps not, but it is clear that uncertainty at least has replaced optimism. With the IAEA regularly reporting that Iran is abiding by its commitments under the JCPOA, the P4+Germany and the international community continue to support the deal. The question is how they, particularly the EU, would manage the emerging sanctions controversy. Washington’s reneging on its commitments under the JCPOA will no doubt lead to questions regarding the consistency of US foreign policy. But equally if not more important will be dealing with Mr. Trump’s threat that “anyone doing business with Iran will NOT be doing business with the United States” despite the fact that these are not UN endorsed sanctions.

Iran sanctions will further burden the Turkey-US relationship.

When the Cold War was over, Turkey found itself in the middle of three major conflict areas, namely the Balkans, the Caucasus and the Middle East.

The disintegration of Yugoslavia adversely affected Turkey’s trade, transport and communication links with Europe. Thousands of Bosnian refugees came over.

Instability in the Caucasus, the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict and Georgia’s war with Russia also created problems for Turkey.

Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990 had the most severe consequences for Turkey’s security, trade and economic relations with Iraq and the Gulf region. The pipeline carrying Iraqi oil to Turkey remained closed for years. Turkey was second to Iraq in paying a high price for the sanctions targeting Saddam Hussein’s regime. These were at least UN sanctions but this did make them any fairer for Turkey. Now with more than three million Syrian refugees it is only understandable that Ankara would not wish to go through such an experience again this time with unilateral US sanctions targeting Iran and Washington must understand this.

The focus of attention for the moment is the Brunson case which brings to mind the setback in Russian-Turkish relations after the downing of the Russian Su-24 aircraft on November 24, 2015 and the murder of Russian Ambassador Karlov on December 19, 2016. These were put behind but Turkey continues to pay a high price. That the Brunson case, an incomparably simpler challenge, has turned into such a major headache is appalling. Unfortunately, this only the tip of the iceberg of differences. Nonetheless, it needs to be resolved sooner than later because US sanctions targeting Turkey’s Ministers of Justice and Interior are taking a heavy toll on Turkey’s dwindling economy. Clearly, the Turkish government wishes to avoid a situation which will be perceived as giving in to US pressure. The question is whether Washington will agree to a timely “deal” or insist on Brunson’s release as the first step. This is no time for brinkmanship but  high time for both sides to take a long-term look at their relationship.



About Ali Tuygan

Ali Tuygan is a graduate of the Faculty of Political Sciences of Ankara University. He joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in January 1967. Between various positions in Ankara, he served at the Turkish Embassy in Brussels, NATO International Staff, Turkish Embassies in Washington and Baghdad, and the Turkish Delegation to NATO. From 1986 to 1989 he was the Principal Private Secretary to the President of the Republic. He then served as ambassador to Ottawa, Riyadh, and Athens. In 1997 he was honored with a decoration by the Italian President. Between these assignments abroad he served twice as Deputy Undersecretary for Political Affairs. In 2004 he was appointed Undersecretary where he remained until the end of 2006 before going to his last foreign assignment as Ambassador to UNESCO. He retired in 2009. In April 2013 he published a book entitled “Gönüllü Diplomat, Dışişlerinde Kırk Yıl” (“Diplomat by Choice, Forty Years in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs”) in which he elaborated on the diplomatic profession and the main issues on the global agenda. He has published articles in Turkish periodicals and newspapers.
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