Written by Staff Writer at CNN
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s bid to find alliances in the Middle East has brought him to Turkey’s key ally, the US and its most disruptive critic, Iran.
Erdogan has been in Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia over the past four days, seeking out new partners in an era when the United States is committed to the region, but no longer bound by its past alliances.
During the Iran trip, Erdogan appeared more interested in forging a political alliance with Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei than Washington. The two leaders cited Iran’s crackdown on political activists, human rights and minority groups, according to accounts in both the Turkish and Iranian media.
And on Wednesday, Erdogan met the new king of Saudi Arabia, Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, whose father, the late King Abdullah, was a strong US ally — but who watched as US sanctions against Iran and the war in Yemen led Riyadh to view the Obama administration as overly friendly toward Tehran.
Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, during his own visit to Saudi Arabia on Wednesday, also tried to revive Middle East relations with his Saudi counterpart and his counterparts from both Syria and Turkey.
US President Donald Trump’s vision of a “new normal” in US diplomacy hinges on the benefits of reneging on years of US commitment to support the largely Shiite-majority Iran. Iran’s leader, Hassan Rouhani, joined Saudi officials in condemning the Mideast violence of Daesh and al Qaeda, but officials talked openly about an “iron triangle” between those groups that could plunge the region into more conflict.
A second-order benefit of this strategy could be easing America’s free-trade obligations to the EU by sealing a new deal with Russia, even if Moscow’s activities and ambitions in Syria risk provoking responses from its NATO allies.
That issue is especially relevant as Russia vies for influence in Turkey, as well as in Syria, Iran and Iraq.
Where the US will find allies is uncertain, but the region is unlikely to get any simpler or less chaotic.
Erdogan welcomed King Salman to Turkey and thanked the Saudi monarch for what Turkish state media described as his condolences for the May 24 killing of Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate.
The Trump administration reacted to the killing with muted disapproval, and congressional Republicans have called for sanctions against Saudi officials involved in the killing. But now President Trump is looking to find common ground with Saudi Arabia, with new investments on the horizon, after withdrawing from a trans-Pacific trade pact, and a conflict with Iran heightened.