Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan made an official visit to Tehran, heading a large political and economic delegation. During his trip, the Turkish Premier did hold wide-ranging bilateral talks with Iranian high-ranking officials covering several issues of common interest, including energy, trade and culture. He wrapped up his visit by signing several cooperation instruments for the promotion of bilateral relations. Apart from bilateral relations, for which meetings and talks are routinely carried out, these summits are the key elements in upholding regional cooperation and arrangements.
Turkey has applied for acceding to European Union (EU) for decades now and is seriously pursuing her appeal. Notwithstanding her attempts to join the EU, Ankara has not spared any efforts to upgrade its relations and cooperation with the countries in the region. In other words, as one scholar put it, Turkey’s “look the region” policy has gained momentum. This policy has been pushed and advanced ever since the Justice and Development Party, led by Mr.Erdogan, took office in 2003 in Turkey. The Turkish Government has tried to show that regionalism, or “look the region,” is an important element in the foreign policy of the country and has, therefore, enhanced the cooperation with the countries of the region, principally with Iran, as a powerful country in West Asia and the Persian Gulf. This policy, taken up by Turkey, is commendable. The countries of the region need to greet Turkey’s orientation delightfully, since this will be conducive to further promotion of collaborations between the countries of the region.
Both Iran and Turkey are the major powers in the region, having a significant say and role in shaping up developments in the region encompassing the Middle East and West Asia.
The two countries are among the constituents of the Economic Cooperation Organization, ECO, which replaced the Regional Cooperation for Development, RCD. The two Muslim nations share many common interests and relative economic advantages. Within the past fifteen years, seven countries have joined the ECO as economic and trade relations among the members have tripled. With the linking of Iran’s railway network to that of central Asia, the trade volume is expected to grow further among the ECO countries over the years.
Additionally, although the member states of ECO are in different phases of economic development, there is satisfactory ground for them to integrate their potentials, thus setting up a system upon which they can use “relative advantages” to optimize their economies. This is not an unprecedented undertaking. The European Union member states are as economically diverse as other countries, in particular, the nations in this part of Asia. However, in the course of five decades since its existence, EU members have taken long strides that are now moving toward the ambitious objectives of complete unification of the economy and now they even have their unified currency, the Euro.
Moreover, through the past four decades, in the process of economic polarization, several regional groupings have been shaped, some of which have gained such economic and political muscle that can even influence the global economy and trade process. ASEAN, MERCUSUR, and others are among such regional groupings.
Surely, if these states have a strong will, they will have the ability to establish a regional arrangement and become a powerful economic pole in the world, while having enormous natural and human resources and also being a great market for more than 300 million people, as the backbone of the regional economic arrangement.
The countries of the ECO region need to bear in mind that they cannot choose neighbors with whom they would be better off dealing with, and they should be confident that friendship and cooperation between existing neighbors are valuable and can be strengthened, bearing fruits through regionalism.
That is to say that Iran and Turkey, with Pakistan, have great roles to play in ECO as a regional arrangement. Certainly, all the member states of ECO are unanimous in that stability and development are inseparable, and the former may not be realized if the latter fails to exist, and vice versa. There is no doubt that member countries need to take on, solely, the responsibility for securing the stability in this region and past experiences has unequivocally proved that if this objective was to be safeguarded by foreigners, it would be disastrous and costly for the region. I closely associate with a scholar and analyst who maintains that “REGIONALISM” would bring about either stability or development. Fortunately, to guarantee those two objectives, the conditions do exist in the region.
In terms of stability, the countries of the region, being deeply aware of their political, social, cultural and economic circumstances, can close ranks to challenge any crisis that may emerge in any field. Since the security of their existence is at stake, they do not spare any effort to find a sound and timely solution to the probable tensions, preventing the crisis from gaining large dimensions. Thus, they do not allow foreign agitators to fish in troubled waters.
As far as the economy and growth of the regional states is concerned, regionalism promises better prospects for these countries. Some of the member states are rich in oil and gas and others do posses tremendous potentials for economic growth and prosperity, provided that those resources and capabilities are used up appropriately.
Iran, one the founders of this regional body and one of the biggest countries of this region, apart from having rich oil and gas resources, is also enjoying a strong economic potential for growth in the fields of industry, agriculture and technology. Naturally, to achieve that aspiration, Iran needs to seek peace and stability in the region, and so are the desires of its neighbors — to share her ideals and extend their collaborations to that end. Having cordial relations with Iran, based on mutual confidence, will be very precious and instrumental for all ECO member states. On several occasions, Iran has showed her good will and has been prepared to assist the people of the member states to resolve their problems.
Certainly, this will be more fruitful if it is carried out through a solid regional arrangement. These countries are certainly well aware that Iran, as one of the original founders of this regional body, has had long experiences in different fields and may apply her expertise in these fields in the other member states.
Moreover, Iran is a bridge between the north and south of this region and this linkage will certainly contribute to the flourishment of trade among the countries in a vast area with hundreds of millions of people.
No doubt, with the new global economic conditions and the world crisis that cannot be far from over in the near future, and given the special circumstances of ECO nations, this economic body has become much more important and its activities need to gain momentum, if the member states keenly want to face the global economic implications.
In other words, the countries of this body may be able to establish a “crisis management system” that is in conformity with the region’s imperatives, and can be developed in the years to come. As we can see this has been discussed at an international scale, particularly after the recent economic crisis erupted. Moreover, this regional system would be of great assistance to brace for international challenges and crises.
So far, so good. However, there are some points that deserve more focus.
First, the relations and cooperation between countries must be looked upon in a strategic and long term perspective. Since the neighborhood is an everlasting fact and, consequently, the relations and common interests and the policies of the neighboring countries need to be a long term one as well, these policies, undoubtedly, will be modified in order to readjust with the regional and international changes and developments.
Having this in mind, then to focus merely on short -term interests, not only mitigate the reciprocal trust but may adversely affect the long-term interests of the region.
Second, transparency, honesty and frankness should dominate the relations of the countries and the neighbors in particular. The history has taught the lesson as to how the big powers have faced great challenges, just because of their ambiguous and sometimes insincere policies toward others; naturally, time and again, they have not been able to compensate for the blunders they have made in their relations with other countries in the past. Even worse, they could not have returned the lost trust because of their wrong policies.
Certainly, securing national interests of one country top the list of policy issues of any government. Naturally, any challenge to the national interests need to be dealt with firmly. And it is expected that this trip will also protect the achievements of the region over the years to come.
*The author is a senior international expert.