Tehran Summit in The Context of Public Diplomacy: How To Understand The Whole Picture?

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During the Tehran summit, Turkey came to the forefront, expressing its position regarding attempts related to preventing a humanitarian catastrophe and influx of Syrian refugees, which could be possible as a result of the operation in Idlib.”

Tehran summit has gone down in history as negotiations conducted between leaders in a very rarely-seen live broadcast format. World mass-media attention was focused on the situation when President Erdogan during the live broadcasted negotiations objected to the inclusion of article three of the Tehran Declaration and insisted on including a provision concerning a cease-fire to prevent a humanitarian tragedy. This scene has become one of the most popular in social networks.

However, Russian President Vladimir Putin diplomatically responded to President Erdogan’s call for the ceasefire and rejected it on the grounds that the parties did not see aforementioned as necessary. Undoubtedly, in order to avoid debates in front of the journalists and not to worsen relations with Ankara, Putin indeed expressed the opinion that Turkey’s position looked correct, but in view of the absence of representatives of the armed opposition at the Summit, the Russian president kindly refused to include the provision about ceasefire in the text of the Declaration.

Erdogan’s call for a ceasefire was addressing Russia, which initiated the aerial bombardment of Idlib much more active than the armed opposition. Taking into consideration that bombing was carried out before the Summit; it was clear to whom Erdogan’s message was addressed. In this context, the signing of the Tehran Declaration by Turkey demonstrates that, keeps participating in the Astana process and making a choice in favor of further cooperation with Russia. At the same time, Turkey, acting together with the United States and European allies against Russia, is making huge effort to prevent Russia from carrying out a military operation in Idlib and thereby prevent a humanitarian catastrophe.

At this point, Turkey positioned itself as a country that wants to prevent the humanitarian tragedy in Idlib and the influx of refugees all over the world after the Tehran summit. In contrast to the war Cabinets of Russia and Iran, Turkey showed a humane approach to the issue of Idlib humanitarian drama and the refugee problem.

President Erdogan invited Cabinet Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and Treasury Minister Berat Albayrak and the Presidential Office of Communication Director Fahrettin Altun and the Presidential spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin behind them at the summit, and showed the whole world that he was looking at the Syrian crisis from the perspective of “humanitarian diplomacy”. President Erdoğan was accompanied by Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu, Minister of Treasury and Finance Berat Albayrak, Communications Director Altun and Press Secretary of the President Kalın, who was in fact the founder of the Office for Public Diplomacy, which demonstrated the approach to solving the Syrian crisis in the framework of refugee-driven “humanitarian diplomacy”.

This image created by Turkey during the Tehran Summit enabled to gain a high reputation in the international community and public opinion after the Davos Summit. Besides, this brief diplomatic discussion between the leaders presented the world that Turkey promoted humanitarian diplomacy, paying particular attention to the humanitarian tragedy and the problem of refugees in Syria. As a result, at the meeting of the United Nations Security Council, the United States and the UK took a position defending Turkey.

During the live broadcast, President Erdogan quoted the Iranian poet, who said: “If you do not care about the fate of other people, then you cannot be called a human”, directly referring to his partners with the words: “Those who close their eyes to death in Syria are inhuman”, which made this video the most sharead in social networks. This position allowed Erdogan and Turkey to take their place on the world agenda after the Davos Summit.

Erdogan focused on the fact that Turkey has exhausted the possibilities for receiving refugees from Syria and that upon completion of the operation in Idlib a humanitarian catastrophe would occur; 3.5 million civilians and foreign fighters would form a new wave of refugees to Turkey and then to Europe which should be prevented.  Europe and the US at the UNSC meeting openly demonstrated support for Turkey’s position on this issue.

In this regard, it can be assumed that after the Tehran summit, a new area for maneuver appeared. Now Turkey will cooperate with European countries, in particular, the United States, Britain, Germany, France against Russia, to prevent a new flow of refugees. The upcoming meeting on the situation in Idlib with European partners on September 14, 2018, in Istanbul is the confirmation of this fact. The Istanbul Summit can be considered as a new step after Russia and Iran refused to offer a ceasefire at the Tehran Summit.

The Istanbul Summit is a strategy of balancing Turkey against the Russian-Iranian duet within the framework of the Astana process. While the Syrian Civil War is coming to an end, a new direction of Turkey’s cooperation with European countries has been added to the joint plan of Turkey’s actions with Russia within the framework of the Astana process.

It can be argued that this factor strengthens the rapprochement between Turkey and the EU, and can also bring the country closer to the United States. Thus, it can be argued that the connection of European countries to the process against Russia and Iran can be considered as a balancing factor.

Doç. Dr. Muharrem EKŞİ
ANKASAM Kamu Diplomasisi Danışmanı