July 25, 2022
The Presidents of Iran, Russia, and Türkiye met in the Astana format on July 19, 2022. President Erdogan went to Tehran to secure the understanding of his partners for a military operation against the PKK/YPG in Syria that has been on his agenda for some time. The Joint Statement issued at the end of the Tehran summit addressed Ankara’s terrorism concerns in principle, but in so far as action was concerned it fell short of his expectations.[i]
It said that the three leaders expressed their determination to continue working together to combat terrorism in all forms and manifestations. This is the common language on terrorism and appeared in NATO’s Madrid Summit Declaration as well. But it cautioned against unilateral action by rejecting all attempts to create new realities on the ground under the pretext of combating terrorism and by underscoring the necessity to maintain calm on the ground by fully implementing all agreements in the Idlib de-escalation area. These were messages to both Ankara and Washington.
In Tehran, President Erdogan and President Putin also had a bilateral meeting. In remarks to the press, the latter said, “Our relations are making headway regardless of everything. Trade is growing and at a fast pace. I am very glad that we have an opportunity to hold a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of our Astana summit. We have a lot of issues to discuss. I would like to thank you for your mediation efforts, for granting a Turkish platform for talks on food problems, on the export of grain via the Black Sea. We made progress with your mediation. True, not all problems have yet been resolved, but there is progress and that is good enough.” Evidently, in challenging times for Türkiye-West relations, President Putin was determined to maintain a close relationship with Ankara.
In Tehran, Iran and Türkiye agreed to extend their gas supply contract for another 25 years and set an ambitious trade target of 30 billion dollars.
In remarks to the press with Mr. Erdogan, President Raisi said that the Turkish President’s visit to Tehran marks an “important turning point” in improving the level of cooperation between the two neighboring countries. Iran and Türkiye signed eight memoranda of understanding in political, economic, sports, and cultural fields, and agreed to work toward expanding their bilateral trade volume to 30 million dollars.
The next day, on July 20, nine civilians including children were killed in a park in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region by artillery fire that Baghdad blamed on Türkiye. Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi warned Türkiye that Baghdad reserves the “right to retaliate,” calling the artillery fire a “flagrant violation of sovereignty”. Ankara denied the charge and pointed at terrorist organizations. The US State Department, without calling names, condemned the attack and said that the killing of civilians is unacceptable, and all states must respect their obligations under international law, including the protection of civilians.
But the top news of the past week was the signing in Istanbul of the “Black Sea Grain Initiative”, an agreement Russia and Ukraine signed separately with the UN and Türkiye that would allow grain ships to circumvent Russia’s naval blockade of the ports of Odesa, Yuzhne and Chornomorsk through safe sea corridors.
Under the agreement, ships loaded with Ukrainian grain will sail out from these three ports into Turkish waters to be inspected by the Joint Coordination Center (JCC) to be set up in Istanbul, bringing together Turkish, UN, Ukrainian, and Russian officials. They will then deliver their cargo to destinations around the world. On the way back, these ships will be inspected once again by the JCC to make sure that are not carrying weapons to Ukraine.
A parallel Memorandum of Understanding on Russian exports of grain and fertilizers from Russia was also signed in Istanbul. Those commodities are not subject to US or EU sanctions. But “even if these Russian products are not affected by sanctions, there are blockages concerning maritime transport, insurance, and the banking system,” Turkish Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu said. “The United States and the EU have given promises to lift these.”
Ukrainian and some Western officials are skeptical that Moscow will stick to the deal. Russian missiles hit the port of Odesa on Saturday leading Ukrainian officials and others to accuse Moscow of bad faith. By contrast, Foreign Minister Lavrov Russia said that Russia will honor its commitments in this regard adding, “The fact that the United States and its allies are using food in the interests of their geopolitical adventures is unacceptable and inhumane.”
The successful implementation of the “grain deal” will depend largely on Russia but Ukraine as well. If commitments are respected it may lead to more.
Whatever the coming days and weeks might bring, the signing of the Black Sea Grain Initiative was a remarkable diplomatic achievement earning Türkiye and the UN much praise across the world including in Washington.[ii] In fact, such mediation by Ankara was only to be expected since Türkiye is a major Black Sea naval power and scrupulously implements the Montreux Convention regulating passage through the Straits. Most importantly, Ankara’s role in achieving the grain deal perfectly fits in with Türkiye’s traditional foreign policy constantly reviled by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) leadership in recent years. Thus, it raises the hopes for the prioritization of dialogue, peace-making, and regional stability over bluster and confrontation.
Beyond the shadow of a doubt, climate change is now the greatest challenge for the human race. But wars go on and on…