U.S. ally Turkey looks to Russia and Iran to protect its interests

Global conference

Analysis: The U.S. organized a global conference on the Mideast in Warsaw, but Turkey's leader is at a summit with Russian and Iranian leaders instead..


WASHINGTON — As Trump administration officials presided over the second day of an international conference in Warsaw dominated by calls to ratchet up pressure on Iran, one longtime U.S. ally and NATO member was noticeably absent — Turkey.

Snubbing the gathering in Poland, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday attended a rival conference in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, where he planned to meet his Russian and Iranian counterparts to work out a final settlement of the war in Syria.

The dueling summits illustrate President Donald Trump's struggle to forge a united front against Iran, and reflect Turkey's drift away from Washington as it finds common ground with Moscow and Tehran, experts and former officials said.

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In a wide-ranging exclusive interview with News on Friday, Zarif said that the "same gang" behind the 2003 Iraq War are "at it again" in pushing for war with his country.

"I'm not saying President Trump's administration, I'm saying people in President Trump’s administration are trying to create the same eventuality and I believe they will fail," he said.

Still, he said he hoped "some sense will prevail" but warned that "people will find out that it's suicidal to engage in a war with Iran."

Zarif also appeared to dismiss the idea of renegotiating the landmark 2015 Iran nuclear deal that aimed to curb the country's weapons program in exchange for sanctions relief.

The administration of President Donald Trump withdrew from the agreement last year, putting it at odds with European leaders and independent watchdogs who say Iran is complying with its terms.

For decades, the U.S. could count on Turkey as a reliable partner that would line up with other allies against Iran and support Washington's strategic goals. But the political landscape has changed, U.S. influence in the region is in doubt, and Ankara is staking out an independent course, said Colin Clarke, senior research fellow at the Soufan Center, a New York-based think tank.

"I think we're seeing a realignment," Clarke told Our News. "The U.S. has gone from the position where we called the shots, to where we are making mere suggestions to Turkey. That's a major sea change."

Turkey's relations with Washington have come under mounting strain since Erdogan was elected president in 2014, as the Turkish leader has pushed back on U.S. policies and carried out a crackdown on dissent. But the conflict in Syria has opened up the most dramatic divide between the two countries, with Ankara infuriated at Washington's support for Kurdish forces in Syria, which it sees as a terrorist threat.

When national security adviser John Bolton flew to Ankara in January, Erdogan refused to meet him and expressed outrage at U.S. demands that Turkey refrain from launching strikes against Kurdish fighters in northeastern Syria.