Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan holds meeting with Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, the King of Saudi Arabia on July 23 in Jeddah. (Xinhua photo)
CAIRO/ISTANBUL, July 25 (Xinhua) -- Though Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's just-concluded Gulf tour failed to break the impasse there, it has at least helped protect Turkey's interests in the region.
Erdogan on Monday ended his two-day whirlwind visit to Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, without achieving major breakthrough to end the diplomatic row between Qatar and the Saudi-led quartet.
Erdogan's tour was the second diplomatic offensive launched by Turkey, following a similar visit to the Gulf by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu a month ago.
In fact, no one expected much from Erdogan's visit even before it started, mainly because of Turkey's one-sided support to Qatar, a major economic and security partner for Ankara.
But obviously, the need to soothe the worry of the Saudi-led alliance of Arab countries and the desire to exert Turkey's influence as a regional power have propelled Erdogan to go ahead with the visit.
ONE-SIDED STANCE HURTS TURKEY'S CREDIBILITY AS MEDIATOR
Even since the beginning of Gulf crisis on June 5 when the Saudi-led bloc cut diplomatic ties with Qatar, Erdogan has never shied away from voicing his public support to Doha, with which Ankara has extensive economic and security relations.
At one point, the Turkish leader even criticized the blockade on Qatar imposed by the Saudi-led bloc, which also includes the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Egypt, as inhumane and against Islamic values.
Erdogan's government also took concrete steps to demonstrate its strong support to Doha in the wake of the crisis.
Turkey has delivered a large amount of aid of food and daily necessities to Qatar, whose citizens are under pressure from the sanctions by neighboring Arab countries.
Moreover, it has swiftly deployed a number of troops to its military base in Qatar to help the latter to deal with any possible security threat from its neighbors.
The Qatar-Turkey military cooperation has incensed the Saudi-led bloc, which purportedly demanded for closure of the Turkish base in Qatar, among the list of 13 demands put forward in late June.
Ankara's one-sided stance, though welcomed by Qatar, has damaged its credibility as an impartial mediator and raised doubts from the Saudi-led camp.
"Turkey has no chance of ending the conflict on its own, because it has adopted a pro-Qatar stance at the beginning," said Faruk Logoglu, a former diplomat from the Turkish Foreign Ministry.
He believed that Turkey, as a non-Arab country, should not take sides in an inter-Arab conflict.
ERDOGAN HAS TURKEY'S OWN INTERESTS TOP ON MIND
By launching mediation efforts, Erdogan apparently has Turkey's strategic interests top on mind, as Ankara has vast economic and strategic interests in the Gulf region.
"This visit is aimed for most at protecting Turkey's interest in this important region by telling these countries that despite that Ankara took sides with Qatar, it doesn't want hostile ties with others," said Bora Bayraktar of the Kultur University in Istanbul.
On one hand, Turkey boasts close economic and security ties with Qatar, not only because they are close economic partners, but also they share common views on some regional issues.
Against the backdrop of its increasingly tense relations with the U.S. and Europe, Turkey is relying more on its economic ties with rich Gulf nations, such as Qatar.
Qatar is Turkey's 7th biggest investor with direct investments in Turkey totaling 18 billion U.S. dollars, while the value of the projects undertaken by Turkish companies in Qatar, which will host the 2022 World Cup, has reached about 8.5 billion U.S. dollars.
On another hand, both Turkey and Qatar are eager to become a major player in the region, not to mention their common support to the Muslim Brotherhood, outlawed by Egypt, and the Hamas Movement in Gaza Strip. The Saudi-led bloc has demanded Doha end its support to these extremist groups.
Despite its strong support to Qatar, Erdogan wants to avoid antagonizing the powerful Saudi-led alliance at the same time. Before heading for Kuwait on Sunday, he told reporters that the Gulf crisis benefits no one both in political and economic terms.
Turkish government sources said Erdogan hoped to use this visit to repair Ankara's ties with the Saudi-led Arab countries, which are unhappy about Turkey's support to Doha.
Another factor that could motivate Erdogan to actively get involved in mediating the Gulf crisis is perhaps Turkey's slowly drifting away from the U.S. and Europe in foreign policy, especially after the failed military coup last year.
Erdogan has been irked by the U.S. and Europe's criticism of his crackdown on political dissidents in the wake of the coup.
He is also displeased with Washington's refusal to extradite exiled Turkish preacher Fethullah Gulen, who is accused of being behind last year's coup against Erdogan.
Notably, Erdogan's Gulf tour, by the first head of state of a non-Gulf nation, came after the visits to the region by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany in the past weeks.
Through mediating the Gulf crisis, Erdogan may have tried to exert Turkey's influence as a regional power, thus increasing his bargain chip in dealing with the U.S. and Europe in future.