Turkey's newly appointed Foreign Affairs Minister Hakan Fidan (R) and his predecessor Mevlut Cavusoglu shake hands during a handover ceremony in Ankara on June 5, 2023. The Turkish president unveiled a new cabinet lineup on June 3 after winning a historic runoff election to serve a third term in office. Image Credit: AFP

Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan is likely to step up efforts to build ties with the Middle East and North Africa after taking steps in that direction as head of the national intelligence agency, according to people familiar with the matter.

Fidan, 54, replaced Mevlut Cavusoglu on Monday, becoming the second foreign minister with a military background since the inception of modern Turkey. He had been holding back-channel talks to improve diplomatic relations with countries in the region, the people said, asking not to be identified due to the sensitivity of the information.

The diplomacy is part of a broader realignment that’s seen regional rivals step back from conflicts - as well as the pressing need to attract investment to Turkey’s battered economy.

The foreign ministry could not be immediately reached for comment.

“Turkey’s shift in foreign policy is in line with facts that sustaining its independent policies in a broad region has become more difficult,” said Nihat Ali Ozcan, a strategist at the Economic Policy Research Foundation in Ankara. “Fidan’s unique experience in dealing both with state and non-state actors could help him deal with grave foreign-policy issues.”

On the western diplomatic front, Turkey has come under pressure from Washington to agree to ratify Sweden’s bid to join NATO before potentially receiving support for a purchase of America-made F-16 fighter jets. Ankara is uneasy about anti-Turkey protests held in Stockholm over the weekend and wants Sweden to crack down on the activity of Kurdish groups in the country, the people said.

Trained as a non-commissioned signal army officer, Fidan served overseas and studied in the US before leading the nation’s international aid group, TIKA. He then became a foreign policy and security adviser to then Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who extended his presidency into a third decade after winning last month’s elections.