Iran and Turkey Look Forward to Mending Ties: Ankara Back to Start Point

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Siamak Kakaei
ٍExpert on Turkey Issues

Relations between Turkey and Iran are on a new path, which is directed toward elimination of certain tensions and political differences between the two countries. Officials both in Iran and Turkey have indicated their interest in further expansion of bilateral ties during the past few weeks. By walking along the Hudson River [in New York on the sidelines of the 68th annual session of the United Nations General Assembly], without the presence of a third person, the two countries’ top diplomats and foreign ministers, namely Ahmet Davutoglu and Mohammad Javad Zarif, showed that Tehran and Ankara are bent on moving toward further strengthening of their relations. In the meantime, a recent trip to Turkey by the Iranian foreign minister, during which Zarif met with senior Turkish officials, and the seriousness that both sides showed during their negotiations about deepening of bilateral relations, was another proof attesting to the fact that a new window of opportunity is being opened in relations between Iran and Turkey. This new atmosphere has come about in the two countries’ relations following a wave of political differences which have characterized the relations between Tehran and Ankara during the past two years. During that period, the two countries have been distant over certain regional issues, in particular, over the ongoing crisis in Syria. When Turkey took sides with the enemies of Syria and emphasized on the need for political changes in the Arab country, Iran took the opposite side and this difference in the two countries’ viewpoints caused their attitudes as well as regional priorities to become gradually distant. The question now is what factors have caused Iran and Turkey, as two major regional political players, to take steps for improving relations? Of course, relations between Tehran and Ankara have been steadily on the rise with a promising outlook during, at least, the past 10 years. The volume of trade between the two neighbors has reached as high as 25 billion dollars a year and is expected to further grow in the coming years. As a result, the level of trade and economic exchanges, as a factor of bilateral relations, had been constantly on the rise and even political indignations between the two countries had never been of a serious nature. The differences over the situation in Syria, however, led to relative coldness in diplomatic exchanges between Tehran and Ankara. It was not many years ago when Turkey and [its prime minister], Recep Tayyip Erdogan appeared to be playing a mediatory role between Iran and the West over Iran's nuclear energy program. That effort greatly elevated the status and importance of relations with Turkey for Iran. However, the political upheavals, which have swept across the Middle East during the past two years, totally changed that situation. Now, it seems that after that period of tension, Iran and Turkey are once again on a new course to mend fences. There are, at least, four factors which can be enumerated here as the main catalysts which have led to the new state of affairs between the two countries. They include:

1. The first factor is the challenge facing Turkey in its Middle Eastern policies, especially with regard to its immediate neighbors, which has increased criticism of the Justice and Development Party’s policies inside Turkey. For this reason, Turkish officials have been trying to find a way out of the existing situation. In fact, they have been looking for a middle road, which would neither require them to give up their general policy in Syria, nor make the status quo continue and further add to the isolation of Turkey among regional countries. Therefore, Turkey’s officials have been trying to change the game by reviewing their stances on Syria.

2. The change of Iranian administration is the second factor that has prompted Turkish officials to indicate their interest in further expansion of relations between Tehran and Ankara.

3. The third factor that has played a role is the relative thaw in Iran's interactions with the United States, and Turkey’s willingness to play a role for the improvement of relations between the two countries. Turkish authorities have taken official stances showing their satisfaction with direct talks between Iran and the United States. However, it seems that from a strategic viewpoint, this issue has attracted Turkey’s attention to the future outlook of negotiations between Tehran and Washington. This means that Turkey is trying to find opportunities through any kind of new opening in Iran's relations with the United States.

4. Next year will be a very important year for Turkey because the country’s forthcoming presidential elections will be a determining stage in the political life of the Justice and Development Party and Erdogan himself. In view of the existing situation in Turkey’s domestic and foreign environment and given the current harsh criticism of some political positions taken by the Justice and Development Party, this issue may prompt some officials in Ankara, especially Turkey’s top politicians, to go over their regional diplomacy. They are likely to do this, especially with respect to neighboring countries with whom Ankara’s relations have been characterized with tension, disagreement and security issues during the past two years. Continuation of the existing situation may have a great impact on the number of voters taking part in the Turkish presidential polls inside and outside the country. It may also affect Erdogan’s position in the presidential elections as well as the subsequent parliamentary elections. As a result, some analysts predict that the Turkish government is bent on getting back to the right track by trying to eliminate tensions with its neighbors. Therefore, Turkey is expected to try to mend fences with its neighbors and get back to the start point with regard to relations with those countries. This can be described as the “start point” diplomacy. Here, the start point has a special meaning. A few years ago, [Turkey’s Foreign Minister] Ahmet Davutoglu came up with his theory of “zero tension” in relations with the neighbors. As such, he managed to bring about a basic development in his country’s relations with the neighboring countries and other Middle Eastern states. Within framework of his theory for reduction of tension with neighboring countries, Ankara managed to take long strides in this direction. However, profound developments in Arab countries during the past two years caused Turkey’s foreign policy to undergo major changes which also affected Turkish politicians’ treatment of the neighboring countries. As a result, tension between Ankara and peripheral states started to increase. Apart from Syria, where Turkey was engaged in military confrontation with the Syrian government, allegations by the Iraqi officials about Turkey interfering in their country’s internal affairs have led to severe tension between Ankara and Baghdad and also less severe tension between Turkey and Iran. As a result of the above conditions, Davutoglu’s theory of zero tension with neighboring countries has been actually marginalized in his country’s foreign policy. At present, there is high possibility that Davutoglu is also on the way back to the starting point, which is to reduce tension with the neighboring countries.

The question is why the expansion of relations with Iran is so important to Turkey? The main reason should be sought in the mutual role played by Iran and Turkey in the Middle East and the geopolitical positions of both countries in this region. In his book, The Strategic Depth, Ahmet Davutoglu has described the situation by saying that relations between Turkey and Iran constitute an important factor in determining the balance of power in the Middle East. He means that the multifaceted geographical structure of Turkey and Iran has caused Turkey to seek political exchange with countries like Iran. He has also discussed those power balances in the Middle East which are based on political centers with high historical importance and has even noted that the border treaty signed between Iran and Turkey (in the city of Qasr-e Shirin in 1639) is even older than the creation of the United States (in 1774) or the emergence of a united Germany (in 1871).

Another question is whether the improvement in Turkey’s relations with Iran will make any major change in the country’s Middle Eastern priorities, including in relation to countries like Saudi Arabia or with respect to the ongoing developments in Syria? It seems that the relations between Tehran and Ankara can be viewed as a separate case. However, proximity between the two countries and further deepening of cooperation between Iran and Turkey will leave its mark on the type of interaction that these countries will have for the resolution of various regional crises, including the ongoing crisis in Syria. It will also bolster both countries’ political determination for further expansion of relations and more collaboration in the region. Therefore, it seems that expansion of relations between Iran and Turkey will provide a new opportunity for two important political players in the region to play a more impressive role in the Middle East developments. This issue may bring the arrangement of Turkey’s foreign policy priorities back to the right track and where it stood just a few years ago.

Key Words: Turkey, Iran, Ahmet Davutoglu, Mohammad Javad Zarif, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Justice and Development Party, “Start Point” Diplomacy, Saudi Arabia, “Zero Tension” Policy, Syria, Rouhani’s Election, Middle East, Kakaei

Source: Iranian Diplomacy (IRD)
Translated By: Iran Review.Org

More By Siamak Kakaei:

*Turkey’s Cautious Steps to Improve Ties with Iran:

*Political Consensus: What Iraq Needs Today:

*Iran in Turkey’s National Security Document:

*Photo Credit: Al Monitor

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