Tuesday, January 15, 2008
I once wondered whether the loss of Turkey might end up being the worst strategic outcome of the Iraq War. It looks like that was a bit premature, as American-Turkish relations have thawed out considerably in the aftermath of last November's meeting between President Bush and Prime Minister Erdogan. A great deal of that has to do with the operational agreement they reached to help Turkey target the PKK in Iraqi Kurdistan.
But if the PKK is the high profile issue that drove the headlines, the subtext of this rapprochement is the "Turkey-USA-Iraq trilateral energy working group", a seriously underreported initiative on the part of the Bush administration to win back Ankara's goodwill. Basically it amounts to an attempt to pry Turkey away from its flirtation with the Russian-Iranian energy-based tactical alliance with the promise of a central role in the development and distribution of Iraqi oil and gas reserves. It's also part of a larger package dating back to last March by which Turkey would become a regional energy hub connecting the European gas grid with Eurasian supplies, and making Turkey the point of transit for 6-7% of the world's daily oil consumption by 2012.
But it gets more interesting. Turkey has long had plans for developing a domestic nuclear energy program. Apparently there are now discussions in the works for turning it into a regional uranium enrichment hub. A meeting this Friday in Instanbul on the matter will be attended by representatives of the IAEA, the US, Russia, France and the UK.
Of course, a lot of the plan depends on whether Turkey and the US manage to address the PKK issue without alienating the Kurds, as well as on whether the US can keep Iraq from falling apart. But all in all it's a deal that ought to keep Ankara happy.