Both Iran and Turkey have a major stake in how the political landscape in North Africa and the Middle East is reshaped in the months ahead. Tehran and Ankara have developed their own separate narratives on regional events that take credit for providing the political inspiration for the Arab uprisings. Simultaneously, they have aimed to reinterpret reality on the ground to deflect attention away from their own domestic problems. While regional uprisings (with the possible exception of a resurgence of Kurdish separatism) do not necessarily threaten the stability of the Turkish state, Iran is experiencing its own waves of protests.
As European and American leaders formulate policies toward North Africa and the Middle East, Iran and Turkey will have to be factored in and engaged in very different ways. This commentary offers a snapshot of Iranian and Turkish perceptions and reactions to the democratic protests in the Arab world, and explores ways in which the United States and the European Union might interact with Tehran and Ankara in channeling the currents of change.
In Iran’s initial public commentary on the first uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, Iranian leaders portrayed the protests as “Islamic awakenings” inspired by Iran’s 1979 revolution. As events in Libya unfolded, the Iranian narrative shifted away from the protests to criticize the United States and its allies for staging a military intervention, and for being motivated—according to Iranian leaders—primarily by oil interests. Tehran’s narrative on Libya pointedly ignored United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolution 1973, and the endorsement of the Arab League for the intervention.
[The resignation of assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs Wess Mitchell] is surprising news, which seems to have caught everyone off guard. He doesn’t appear to have shared this news with his ambassadors, who were in Washington last week for a global chiefs of mission conference. His deputy is also slated to retire soon, which raises question of near term leadership on European policy at a time of challenges there.
[Wess] Mitchell was a strong supporter of NATO, particularly in Eastern Europe where he will be sorely missed. His departure comes follows the resignation of senior Pentagon officials – Robert Karem and Tom Goffus – working on NATO along with Secretary Mattis. Without this pro-alliance caucus, NATO is now more vulnerable than at any time since the beginning of the Trump administration.