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Turkish Ambitions Meet Reality

4 MINS READApr 3, 2013 | 18:41 GMT
Video Transcript: The Turkish government has set an ambitious agenda for itself for the coming months, from negotiating peace with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) to transforming Turkey's political system amid a number of regional flare-ups. Turkey still has an array of pressing foreign policy matters to deal with, but its prioritization of domestic matters is in some ways an acknowledgment that Ankara can only hope to influence matters abroad if it first gets its internal house in order. The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) already has spent much of the past decade neutralizing the military's role in Turkish politics and building an extensive power base of its own throughout Anatolia. While the AKP achieved a high level of political security at home, it still had to contend with the outstanding issue of Kurdish militancy in Turkey. The issue took on added urgency over the past year as a growing security vacuum in Syria's Kurdish-concentrated northeast borderland with Turkey threatened to embolden Kurdish separatist ambitions in the region overall. This gave the Iranian and Syrian regimes a useful lever to threaten Turkey with Kurdish proxy attacks if Ankara went too far in backing the Sunni rebellion in Syria or in competing against Iran in Iraq. So after several false starts, the ruling party has put into motion the most comprehensive peace plan between Ankara and the PKK to date. So far, the ceasefire is holding. However, as this negotiation reaches thornier issues down the line, spoiler attempts by both the Kurdish and Turkish nationalist sides will likely intensify. Iran and Syria also still have connections with more radicalized PKK members in Syria that could be exploited to tie Turkey down. Before the ceasefire with the PKK encounters its first big challenge, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayep Erdogan is hoping to leverage his perception as a peacemaker to propel forward his plans to transform Turkey into a presidential system. By demonstrating progress in negotiations with the Kurds, Erdogan intends to garner enough Kurdish votes to rewrite the constitution and pave the way for his own presidency in 2014. These plans, however, are not assured; opposition from Turkey's nationalist camp is already starting to rise and Erdogan faces opposition even from members of his own party on some of his constitutional proposals. While trying to advance his domestic agenda, Erdogan is also trying to rebalance Turkey's foreign policy. Turkey realized that it's likely to face a lot more difficulty in trying to manage fallout from Syria and compete more effectively with Iran in Iraq without stronger backing from the United States. Turkey's recent acceptance of an apology from Israel over the Mavi Marmara incident was in part designed to help Turkey facilitate that dialogue with the United States. The United States wants to see Turkey play a more effective role in managing the region, but it will not be as involved in places like Syria and Iraq as Ankara may be expecting. Turkey still faces a number of challenges in trying to get the level of domestic stability it needs to be able to focus its attention abroad. Turkey may have gotten ahead of itself, for example, in throwing its support behind the Syrian rebellion without anticipating the effect of the crisis on Kurdish militancy at home. Turkey's government has set forth ambitious plans to try and recalibrate its domestic and foreign policy, but what Turkey lacks is time. The region will continue to destabilize, whether or not Turkey is prepared to manage the consequences.

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