- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 23, 2011

A top aide to Turkey’s prime minister said Thursday that his country’s policy of engaging Islamist groups and rogue regimes in the Arab world had given Turkey unique leverage in shaping the outcome of the “Arab Spring.”

“We’ve been criticized for engaging many of these groups, whether it’s Hezbollah or Hamas or the Muslim Brotherhood - the so-called difficult actors in the Middle East … but now most of these groups with which we’ve developed some sort of engagement … are going to play an important role in their respective countries,” said Ibrahim Kalin, chief foreign policy adviser for Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Mr. Kalin spoke Thursday at a Middle East Institute forum in Washington.

Hamas recently signed a unity deal with the Palestinian Authority, and Hezbollah and its legislative allies succeeded last week in forming a Lebanese government.

The Muslim Brotherhood, meanwhile, is poised to perform well in Egypt’s upcoming parliamentary elections.

“Some critics claim that, in fact, this is a test for Turkish foreign policy and that this puts Turkey in a difficult position because Turkey so far has worked with the establishment, with the regimes, with most of the dictators in the Arab world. Now you will have to change your allies in the region,” Mr. Kalin said. “Our response is that, in fact, Turkey will be strengthened, not weakened, by a more democratic and prosperous Arab world.”

Mr. Kalin also said his country’s ties with rogue regimes had enabled it play a quiet, behind-the-scenes role in encouraging reform.

“When you engage a country like Iran or like Syria, what you want to do is to get results - not sensational rhetoric, not public battles, but results.”

While Turkish officials were reluctant to publicly criticize Iran during its 2009 crackdown on anti-government protesters, they have taken an active role in the Syrian crisis, hosting opposition leaders and thousands of refugees who have streamed across the Syria-Turkey border.

Mr. Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) won an overwhelming victory in the country’s June 12 elections - its third landslide since its 2002 rise to power.

Mr. Kalin noted that while AKP won only half of the country’s votes, polls showed the 65 percent to 70 percent of the population approved of its foreign policy, which has included a warming with governments across the Middle East and North Africa and a cooling of its longstanding alliance with Israel.