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New Freeze in Tehran-Ankara Relations and Possible Future Scenarios

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Mohammad Ali Dastmali
Expert on Turkey Affairs

After a scheduled visit to Turkey by Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was called off in 2015, new windows of opportunity were expected to open following a few days or weeks of negotiations and consultation, and relations between Tehran and Ankara were supposed to return to normal through this trip or similar trips. However, this did not happen and since that time, apart from a few economic trips and exchange of academic delegations, there have been no important diplomatic meetings in relations between Tehran and Ankara.

At present, some sort of coldness is evident in bilateral relations, as a result of which media in both countries as well as Iranian and Turkish officials make remarks that, as put by Turks, do not presage good! The current Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has made remarks against Iran and Iranian officials during past weeks, which have elicited a wave of negative reactions. On the other hand, the country’s official Anadolu Agency has published reports, which show that some sort of tension and difference exists between the two countries and this issue can develop into more profound and more extensive political and media dimensions. Of course, it must be noted that the current Iranian year can be considered a year in which many Iranian media outlets mounted the highest number of the sharpest attacks against Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party, and sometimes received answers from the opposite side. In general, during the past year, a form of tension has come about in Iran’s relations with Turkey the like of which cannot be found throughout the 11-year political life of the Justice and Development Party.

Who benefits from the difference between Iran and Turkey?

It goes without saying that the main origin of and reason behind the current freeze in Tehran’s relations with Ankara is the issue of Syria and its various regional dimensions. This issue, in its early stages, looked like a simple difference of positions and interests. However, by and by, it became more profound and was extended into a fundamental difference and a conflict between the two countries’ interests. As a result, these two important regional countries found themselves in a position where it seemed that the win of one side in Syria would exactly mean the failure of the opposite side. Perhaps it was for this reason that the rivalry between the two countries is gradually being expressed through a more hostile tone, at least in the field of media and speech.

Erdogan is of the opinion that Syrian President Bashar Assad is a tyrannical dictator, who throws barrel bombs on its own people and that peace can be restored to Syria only in the event of the overthrow of Assad and ousting the Baath party from power. Iran, however, believes that based on the results of Syria’s presidential election, Assad is the rightful and legitimate president of his country and only people of Syria are allowed to make decision about future of their country. It is quite clear that these two viewpoints are poles apart.

At least, as it appears right now, no country is willing to mediate between Iran and Turkey and engage in consultation in order to get their viewpoints closer together. Why? Because tension and difference between Turkey and Iran is to almost everybody’s benefit. On a regional scale, a freeze in Tehran’s relations with Ankara benefits Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Israel. Also, on a transregional scale, such a difference will undoubtedly meet a serious part of the interests of the United States, Europe, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Therefore, the sole factor, which can get Tehran and Ankara closer together, is official and unofficial mechanisms and tools available to the two countries as well as their political and economic elites. Through these mechanisms, the elites can put the highest emphasis on the important and fundamental premise that “differences between Iran and Turkey are to the detriment of both countries and to the benefit of many other actors,” and in doing so, convince officials in both countries to start a rational phase of their relations, which would not entail any cost for either countries.

Under these conditions, three serious options can be offered for future outlook of relations between Iran and Turkey:

1. continuation of the existing freeze in relations without attention to its consequences and results, which under the most optimistic conditions, will have no other cost for either country except mutual security threats in economic and political fields;

2. making efforts by the two countries to stop reciprocal media onslaught and maintain relations at a logical level away from current tensions; and

3. making an effort to come up with an intermediate solution and model on the future of Syria, which would meet both sides’ interests, while preventing escalation of tensions and negative propaganda impulses in other areas such as Iraq and Yemen.

Generally speaking, one can claim that the third solution is somehow idealistic and too optimistic. Therefore, if for any reason, achieving the third option would prove impossible under the existing conditions, the second option could be taken into account, at least, to prevent further increase in the two countries’ costs.

Key WordsTehran, Ankara, Relations, Iran, Turkey, Scenarios, Freeze, Mohammad Javad Zarif, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Justice and Development Party, Syria, Bashar Assad, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Media, Dastmali

More By Mohammad Ali Dastmali:

*Turkey and the Challenge of Insecurity in 2016: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Turkey-and-the-Challenge-of-Insecurity-in-2016.htm

*The Case of Syria and Future Outlook of Tehran-Ankara Relations: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/The-Case-of-Syria-and-Future-Outlook-of-Tehran-Ankara-Relations.htm

*Possible Scenarios Awaiting Syria in New Year: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Possible-Scenarios-Awaiting-Syria-in-New-Year.htm

*Photo Credit: Trend News Agency

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