Potentialities for Promotion of Relations between Iran and Turkey

Sunday, February 12, 2017


Reza Solat
Ph.D. in International Relations and Expert on Turkey Issues

Due to various strategic reasons, relations between Turkey and Iran have been vacillating between a critical neighbor and a strategic ally during recent years. These two countries are still known as the most important rivals for each other, especially under new geopolitical conditions in the region despite the fact that their relations have been mostly of a competitive interaction nature. At present, Tehran and Ankara are going through a new chapter in their relations, though with a certain degree of caution on both sides. Of course, the approach taken by Iran and Turkey to some regional issues, including the ongoing crisis in Syria, is the main bone of contention in relations between Tehran and Ankara, but it by no means seems that these two neighboring countries see each other as an immediate security threat. Each one of them, however, considers itself as a rival country in the other country’s sphere of influence. While emphasizing the need for regional cooperation between the two countries, I believe that there are many reasons for further promotion of the existing relations between Tehran and Ankara. Therefore, the following two reasons can be offered as grounds to prove that there is adequate potential for promotion of relations between the two neighboring countries.

1. Achieving main goals of transregional and regional actors, including establishment of peace in Iraq, restoring full stability to Lebanon, putting an end to the existing deadlock in negotiations between Israel and Palestinians, weakening Islamic fundamentalism, eradication of al-Qaeda, reducing nuclear rivalries, decreasing threats emanating from war in the future, ensuring energy security and transit, and ending the ongoing crisis in Syria will not be possible in the absence of mutual cooperation between Iran and Turkey. The understanding of Turkey and Iran from each other’s ideological fundaments and political outlook in the region is different. Such different understanding has its roots in the existing rivalry and historical backgrounds of the two countries while understanding of the two sides’ national and international roles (including as regional leaders, being a modern country and their civilizational role) fosters existing suspicions between the two states. Therefore, one can claim that in order to do away with these misunderstandings, the theory of finding a common regional solution between Iran and Turkey could be a good formula for solving problems in relations between these two important regional actors. Throughout their history, relations between Tehran and Ankara have been based on positive and good neighborly relations despite all ideological differences that have existed between them. Therefore, under the present circumstances, Tehran and Ankara must put emphasis on a regional solution to the existing problems and promotion of cooperative security while at the same time, coming up with and designing some form of Iranian and Turkish model, so that, their future relations would not be sinusoidal. Such model can be fostered by common concepts and paradigms that exist in the two countries’ political culture.

2. Iran – Turkey High Cooperation Council: Holding of the first meeting of this council in recent months shows that the main aspect of the two countries’ relations, which needs to be bolstered, is not merely increasing the volume of trade exchanges between Tehran and Ankara, but is the necessity and quality of these relations. Therefore, stressing the need to further strengthen this council can speed up taking of serious steps to remove mental problems that affect the two countries. This is true because by forming alliances and organizing meetings, bargaining sessions and negotiations, the two sides can come to know each other better in a technical and specialized environment and they will be able to come up with a common image of their ties. It is clear that unlike their political cooperation, cultural and economic relations and exchanges between the two countries stand at an optimal level. However, further deepening of bilateral discussions within framework of the two countries’ high cooperation council can elevate diplomatic and regional cooperation between Ankara and Tehran to the level of their cultural and economic relations.

On the other hand, it must be noted that following negotiations on Syria in the Russian capital, Moscow, and the capital of Kazakhstan, Astana, relations between Iran and Turkey have been pivoted around four main axes. Those four axes include: 1. establishing a connection between security and freedom in Syria and, in general, across the Middle East region; 2. reducing problems with each other and with neighboring states; 3. formulation of a multifaceted and multilateral foreign strategy, and 4. implementation of that strategy in an active manner. At the present time, the two countries do not see each other as serious security threats, but they are considered as rivals in terms of their regional impact and clout. Ankara is well aware that Tehran is a very good trade partner as well as a supply source endowed with huge natural gas reserves and without Tehran, it may have to depend on Moscow for its energy. At the same time, the fact that two Arab countries that are neighbors of Turkey, that is, Iraq and Syria, currently fall within Iran’s sphere of influence has led to a major challenge between Tehran and Ankara, which has had no precedent in the history of the two sides’ relations.

In view of these facts, Turkey has seen it incumbent on itself, in line with its regional rivalries, to play a more active role in the case of Palestine and also with regard to political developments that have come to be known as the Arab Spring in order to boost its influence among Arab nations. Therefore, in this interactive rivalry, these two powerful regional actors need each other’s spheres of influence. Of course, Turkey has not pursued a policy, which would pit it totally against the Shia front, and has been always emphasizing that Iran’s involvement in resolving the crisis affecting Arab nations would greatly help peace and stability in the region. On the other hand, Iran has frequently emphasized the need to boost cooperation among regional countries without intervention of transregional actors. Although this strategic logic has been emphasized by officials of the two countries time and again, it has received the least amount of attention in practice. On the whole, the first step that must be taken to change the two countries’ foreign policy discourses toward each other and enable them to take advantage of the existing potentialities in their relations is to do away with misunderstandings that exist in each country about the other.

More By Reza Solat:

*An Analysis of Recent Turkey-Russia Relations with Emphasis on Subjective Factors:

*The Future Outlook for Iran-Turkey Relations:

*What Conditions Can Make Turkey Back Down on its Positions regarding Syria?:

*Photo Credit:

*These views represent those of the author and are not necessarily Iran Review's viewpoints.