Analysis - Political Transformations

Pragmatic Alliance

Why did Erdogan's Diplomacy Fail to Resolve the Qatar Crisis?
Thursday، July 27، 2017
Pragmatic Alliance

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to the region, including Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, ended with a visit to Qatar. The main declared goal of the visit was the Turkish President’s desire to play a mediating role in the crisis between the Quartet countries and Qatar. However, all indicators suggested that it was difficult to envisage that the Turkish President could achieve considerable success. In addition, estimates implied that the real goal behind the visit was not the mediation role, but rather maintaining the Turkish interests as a top priority.

Remarkably, no press conferences were held during the visit and the Turkish President’s remarks at Ankara airport, after returning from his tour, were vague and short of referring to any progress. Apart from the expected Qatari’s hospitality to Erdogan, he was greeted without much enthusiasm in Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait, as the two countries’ leaders did not issue any official statements regarding the visit.  

Context of the Visit 

One cannot analyze the visit without referring to its context, which is the Turkish position from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt after they severed relations with Qatar. Initially, Turkey tried to adopt a relatively neutral stance in the hope that different mediation efforts would bring about quick solution, but as the crisis got more complicated and no solution was evident in the horizon, Turkey displayed clear bias towards Qatar. Despite Turkey’s strong ties with Saudi Arabia, the Qatari-Turkish closer relations and coherent stances led Turkey to align with Qatar.

Against this backdrop, reference can be made to the nature of the Qatari-Turkish strategic alliance that have witnessed major developments in recent years. These developments are as follows: 

Political relations: The significance of political relations between Turkey and Qatar was highlighted in the signing of a memorandum to create Joint Strategic Committee in December 2014, then an agreement establishing a Supreme Council for Strategic Cooperation to further cooperation in political and economic areas, in addition to their cooperation in energy, security, and technological fields in January 2015. Moreover, the positions and policies of the two countries converge in many issues in the region. Both countries support political Islam movements, mainly the Muslim Brotherhood, as Qatar sought to reinforce its regional roles through this alliance to pressure Saudi Arabia and the UAE in particular. For its part, Turkey’s rapprochement with Qatar aimed at finding military and security foothold in the Gulf region.

Military relations: The most prominent features of military relations are highlighted in signing military cooperation agreement in December 19, 2014, ratified by the Turkish Parliament on March 5, 2015 and entered into force in June 2015. The significant terms in this agreement feature Turkey and Qatar deploying military forces and establishing military bases on each other’s territories. Both countries also signed cooperation agreement on December 2, 2015 on military training. On December 17, 2015, Turkey declared the start of building a military base in Qatar with 3.000 ground troops to be sent in batches, in addition to air forces and marines. With the outbreak of the current Gulf crisis, the Turkish Parliament, on June 7, 2017, ratified the agreement that allows for the deployment of Turkish troops in Qatar, and the Turkish President approved it the next day to enter into force.

Economic relations: One of the main traits of their economic relations is the Qatari investments in Turkey, which amounted to USD 20 billion, making Qatar the second largest investor in the country. The value of investment projects undertaken by Turkish companies in Qatar is about USD 15 billion. Turkey imported about 1.2 billion cubic meters of Qatari LNG in 2014 and 2015, and signed another agreement with Doha in December 2015 to provide Turkey with gas regularly. 

These relations prompted Erdogan on June 7 to slam the sanctions imposed by the boycotting countries against Qatar as incorrect, “inhuman act” and “death sentence”. On June 25, he stressed Turkey's support for the Qatari position against the 13-demands list, considering it “against international law”.

On the other hand, during the end of June, Khalid Bin Mohamed Al-Attiyah, Qatari Defense Minister visited Ankara, where he met with his Turkish counterpart Fikri Isik ashik and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to discuss developments of the Qatar crisis. This move revealed that Turkey had aimed to send messages to the other parties of the crisis that it stands by its alliance with Qatar and will not back down on its military base.  

Turkish backing for Qatar was not limited to the political side, but extended to the economic aspects by providing Qatar with its food needs shipped through air cargo, as Ankara sought to utilize the crisis to give its food products access to the Qatari markets. 

Another thing that supports what is being said about the strong relations between Qatar and Turkey is the speech of the Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, in his first television appearance since the crisis, where he hailed the Turkish stance.

Motives of the Visit

The Turkish declared aim of the visit, as Erdogan reported at Istanbul's Ataturk Airport, just before the start of his tour to the Gulf, “The first stop in our visit is Saudi Arabia, with which our relationship developed to strategic one in all fields. I shall be discussing with the Saudi side several issues including the Syrian issue, and we intend to continue strengthening relations with Saudi Arabia”.  He added, “As the big brother in the Gulf region, Saudi Arabia has the duty to solve the crisis in the Gulf. As I have said on several of occasions, King Salman heads the list of those who can solve this crisis.” Thus, mediation was the stated goal since “No one has any interest in prolonging this crisis any more”, according to Erdogan. 

However, realities indicate that Turkey’s real calculations are different, as follows:

1. Maintaining relations with both sides: The visit aimed to strike some balance in its stance toward the parties of the crisis, particularly the Saudi side. That is why President Erdogan sought to avoid the deterioration of relations with Saudi Arabia in the first place and with the rest of the anti-terrorism Quartet countries too.  

2. Dialogue with Saudi Arabia: Turkey’s psychological desire to prove that it is still has the capacity to hold dialogue with Saudi Arabia despite its position as a close ally of Doha. 

3. Returning to the Sunni axis: The Turkish President wants to bring back Turkey to the Sunni axis led by Saudi Arabia to confront the Iranian axis that grows in Iraq in Syria, and in Yemen. 

4. Strengthening economic relations: Turkey aims to maintain economic ties with the Quartet states, as the Saudi direct investments in Turkey amount to USD 2 billion and the UAE investments worth around USD 4.1 billion.

The Visit’s Outcome 

The basic premise underpinning the visit and the contexts in which it happened, led to a failure in achieving any of its objectives. The regional and global media gave it a little interest, as a result of implicit conviction of the difficulty that the Turkish President achieve any progress, given his obvious bias toward Qatar. Such bias is necessarily a destructive element to any mediation efforts, because the basis on which any mediation can rely is neutrality, which allows the mediator to stand at an equal distance from all parties of the crisis, a matter was missed out in the Turkish position toward Qatar.  

Most analyses that addressed the visit predicted it would not achieve any progress in the reconciliation that Ankara wants, which happened to be true. Turkey’s explicit support for Qatar made the former incapable of making any concrete progress. 

According to several estimates, Saudi Arabia’s skepticism about the Turkish intentions was clear during the visit, which may explain the lukewarm protocol reception of the Turkish President, as the Turkish President was greeted by Prince Khalid Al-Faisal, key advisor to the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdul Aziz, and Governor of Makkah region.

To conclude, the Turkish tour failed in attaining its desired goal, of resolving the crisis. The Turkish President left Qatar, the last leg in his tour, without announcing any progress or even what had happened in his talks with the Emir of Qatar, reflecting the inefficiency of Turkish diplomacy. 

Keywords: GCCTurkeyQatar CrisisMediation