A Changing Middle East: Iran, Turkey, and Prospects for Peace

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Elliott Abrams, Council on Foreign Relations

Amb. Eric Edelman, Foreign Policy Initiative and Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments

Reuel Gerecht, Foundation for Defense of Democracies

Moderated by Lee Smith, The Weekly Standard

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Summary

Elliott Abrams first addressed the Obama administration’s approach to the Israeli- Palestinian peace process. Mr. Abrams, a veteran diplomat, said the administration’s insistence on the halting of Israeli settlements as a prerequisite to negotiations has hurt the peace process. Never before was this a center point of American policy.

Mr. Abrams then criticized the administration’s attempt to entice Israeli cooperation through F-35 fighter jets and vetoes at the United Nations Security Council, and said no American administration has threatened to use our power at the United Nations to entice a key ally. We should not use such vetoes as a favors to key allies, but as moral decisions to benefit the United States and key allies. Meanwhile, the administration is achieving relative success in building up institutions in the West Bank, though these efforts have been undermined by the slow movement of the peace process.

The second panelist, Eric Edelman, then discussed the future of Turkey, and focused on Turkey’s role in the Middle East. Domestically, Turkey is engaged in an internal debate over the fundamental identity of its foreign policy. The debate is shaped by the current political structure in Turkey, and is heavily influenced by the key political and ideological leaders of the Justice and Development Party currently in power. Moving forward, Edelman suggested that Turkey will not gain influence in the Middle East, despite Turkey’s increased popularity in the streets of the region. Turkey is still greatly distrusted by its neighbors and is unable to serve as a mediator between the Middle East and the West.

Amb. Edelman ended his remarks by discussing the role of one party rule in Turkey over the past decade.  He fears one party rule limited public accountability of government, and created an authoritarian government free of public scrutiny. This lack of transparency created a climate of fear, where public eavesdropping increased and meaningful public opposition was reduced. This was not a moment of liberalization, but rather an effort by the government to curtail advancements.

The third panelist, Ruel Gerecht, discussed the current state of Iran. The Iranian regime continues to feel threatened by the opposition movement, and he believes the government is therefore cracking down on dissidents, including increased threats against green party members, students, universities, and women. The Iranian government will push the illusion of popularity amongst the public and will not allow mass street protests or free and fair municipal elections in the coming future. Shifting to the economics, Gerecht noted the economy continues to emerge as a significant source of worry for the Iranian people. High youth unemployment will keep the regime cognizant of discontent, and greater unrest could encourage the regime to act forcefully through greater public surveillance and oppression. Lastly, Gerecht discussed the impact of President Obama’s policy of engagement with Iran. He predicts discussions to dissuade the Iranian regime from pursuing nuclear weapons will go “nowhere,” unless economic pressure from international sanctions begins to “shake” Iranian society.

Following the conclusion of opening remarks, the panel moved into a Q&A discussion.

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