By PATRICK KINGSLEYJUNE 7, 2017
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, center, met with Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif of Iran, left, in Ankara on Wednesday. The Turkish foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, is at right. Credit Yasin Bulbul/Turkish Presidential Palace
Meeting in a special night session of Parliament, Turkish lawmakers rushed through new laws that will allow the Turkish Army to conduct joint military exercises with Qatar and members of the Turkish gendarmerie to train their Qatari counterparts.
The new legislation also allows Turkey to send more troops to Qatar, where it has an army base and about 150 soldiers.
The moves followed a speech by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey in which he criticized the countries that acted against Qatar, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt and Yemen.
On Monday, those nations cut diplomatic ties with Qatar and closed their airspace to Qatari planes; Saudi Arabia, Qatar’s only land neighbor, also closed its border to Qatari traffic. Qatar, which imports a large majority of its food, was thrown into crisis.
“I want to clearly say that we disapprove of the sanctions on Qatar,” Mr. Erdogan said in a speech on Tuesday evening, according to the Anadolu Agency, the state-owned news service.
Qatar has angered its neighbors by supporting certain Islamist political movements in the region. Qatari news outlets like Al Jazeera have criticized many of the country’s neighbors. And Qatar is seen in the region as being sympathetic to Saudi Arabia’s nemesis, Iran.
Turkey had initially tried to position itself as an honest broker in the dispute among the Arab states. Mr. Erdogan had a round of phone conversations on Monday with the leaders of Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Russia and Kuwait, whose emir also tried to act as a peacemaker.
“They’re all our Sunni brothers and our friends,” Ilnur Cevik, a foreign policy adviser to Mr. Erdogan, said of the Arab states on Tuesday afternoon, in a show of neutrality.
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But with the new laws, Turkey showed that it was “transitioning from neutral mediator to the role of firmly supporting the side of Qatar,” said Galip Dalay, the research director at Al Sharq Forum, a Turkish research organization.
Mr. Erdogan also met in Ankara on Wednesday with Mohammad Javad Zarif, the foreign minister of Iran, another sign that Turkey was no longer staying on the sidelines.
“Turkey does not want to be forced into this crisis, and having to take one side against another,” Mr. Dalay said. “On the other hand, Turkey is very concerned that if Qatar succumbs to pressure, inevitably Qatar will re-evaluate its relationship with Turkey.”
Turkey is already relatively isolated in the region and is frightened of losing its staunchest regional ally. The Qatari emir was the first foreign leader to telephone Mr. Erdogan during a failed coup in Ankara last year, on a night when Turkey’s other allies were slow to offer support.
Qatar and Turkey also share the same vision for the Middle East, said Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, the Ankara director for the German Marshall Fund of the United States.
“The countries allied with Saudi Arabia want to see Qatar capitulate,” Mr. Unluhisarcikli said. “But Turkey doesn’t want to see this, or see Qatar change its strategy in the Middle East, because broadly speaking, the two countries have the same approach to groups in Egypt, Syria and Palestine” like the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas.
Both Qatar and Turkey welcomed many Muslim Brotherhood members who fled Egypt after the 2013 ouster of Mohamed Morsi, a Muslim Brotherhood leader who had been elected president of Egypt the year before.
“If Qatar gives in to this pressure” from its Arab neighbors, Mr. Dalay said, “that will mean that Turkey’s role in the region will be further constrained.