ISTANBUL, TURKEY – After decades of keeping the Arab and Muslim countries of the Middle East at arm’s length, Turkey is trying to strengthen relations with its neighbors while at the same time recasting itself as a mediator in the region. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivered a speech at the opening of the Arab League summit in Khartoum, Sudan, where Turkey for the first time was given the status of ‘permanent guest’ by the organization. The prime minister’s appearance at the summit – the first time a Turkish leader has done so – is the latest in a string of eyebrow-raising foreign policy moves: In February, a top Hamas official visited the capital, Ankara; soon after, Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jafaari made a bridge-building trip; and the Turkish government recently announced that it was planning to host firebrand Shiite Iraqi cleric Moqtada al-Sadr for an official visit – since put on hold. While the moves have ruffled feathers from Israel and Iraq to the US and European Union (EU) – which Turkey hopes to join – analysts say these aren’t so much blunders as a reflection of a significant change in Turkey’s Middle East foreign policy. […]

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