Reduced Tension, Increased Interaction Are New Features of Iran-Turkey Relations

Friday, March 11, 2016

Elyas Vahedi
Expert on Turkey and Caucasus Affairs

A recent visit to Iran by Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in early March 2016, took place after three important developments. The first development was establishment of a relative cease-fire in Syria and follow-ups for holding the next round of Syria peace talks. Davutoglu’s trip will increase the possibility of reduction in differences between Iran and Turkey during the upcoming round of talks on Syria. The second development was coming into the light through media of Turkey’s differences with its Western allies, especially the United States, which may serve to boost Ankara’s willingness to cooperate more with Tehran. Finally, the third development was related to Iran's domestic politics following recent elections for the Islamic Consultative Assembly (Majlis) and the Assembly of Experts. Effective participation of all political figures, who support the policies of the Islamic Republic of Iran's president at the Islamic Consultative Assembly, and holding of these elections through high voter turnout as well as positive interaction among various political currents have sent a message to everybody that there is stability and tranquility in Iran. Therefore, in addition to usual issues that exist between the two countries, the recent visit to Iran by this Turkish official can be aimed at taking advantage of the current suitable atmosphere created around Iran following the implementation of the country’s nuclear deal with world powers, aka the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Although most achievements of this trip will be related to economic fields, the possibility of increased political interaction between the two countries over certain regional issues, especially the issue of Syria, cannot be ignored.

With regard to economic relations, it must be noted that the volume of bilateral trade fell from USD 22 billion to USD 10 billion last year, and many analysts believe that differences between the two countries over regional issues have been influential in this regard. However, the reality is that some issues like plummeting oil prices, which have reduced the amount of Iran's exports to Turkey, as well as insecurity in east and southeast Turkey (where the main transit road from Iran to Turkey passes) due to military operations by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants, have been also very effective in bringing about this drastic fall in bilateral trade. When predicting future state of economic exchanges between Iran and Turkey, one may say that after stabilization of oil prices, total removal of obstacles resulting from anti-Iran economic sanctions, and more importantly, following accurate and complete implementation of preferential trade agreement between the two countries, which can be promoted to a free trade agreement between the two neighbors in future, economic relations between Tehran and Ankara will soar again. The goal set by Iran and Turkey is to boost trade volume to USD 30 billion in medium term and to USD 50 billion in the long term.

In this regard, if officials of the two countries do not suffice to imports and exports alone and attach importance to joint investment as well, relations between the two countries will become deeper and more expanded. Neighborhood and proximity to Iran as well as having experience and background of cooperation with Iran during sanctions period are all major advantages for Turkish companies, which want to be active in various sectors of the Iranian economy. On the other hand, the fact that both countries serve as gateways to other regions for each other further highlights the importance of economic cooperation between the two countries. Turkey is a good gate to connect Iran to the European markets while Iran is, for its part, a good gateway to connect Turkey to the rest of Asia, especially to Central Asia, and this important issue was stressed in remarks made in Iran by Turkish prime minister.

With regard to political and regional issues, it seems that since Turkey has relatively lost its hope in usefulness of the United States’ Middle East policies for Ankara’s interests, the country is currently trying to highlight commonalities with other regional actors, instead of transregional actors, in order to protect its interests in the region, especially in Syria. The emphasis put by Iran's president on the need to maintain territorial integrity of regional countries during his meeting with the visiting Turkish prime minister was, in fact, declaration of Iran's position in the face of an American plan to break up Syria, which may be even accepted by some other actors such as Russia. Turkey, however, considers this plan as being totally to its detriment, because the biggest winner of this plan inside Syria will be the Kurdish Democratic Political Union, which is both a supporter and an ally of PKK.

Opposition to disintegration of Syria, fighting against terrorist groups and offering humanitarian aid to Syrian people and asylum seekers are major issues around which the two countries of Iran and Turkey can engage in effective interaction and cooperation. Remarks made by the two countries’ officials during Ahmet Davutoglu’s Tehran visit prove that maintaining territorial integrity of Syria is the common denominator of the two countries, which can go beyond existing groupings that have taken shape over the issue of Syria and prevent the success of Western countries’ plot to implement their new Middle East project and change political borders in the region. In short, even if Davutoglu’s Iran visit does not lead to a change in the two countries’ foreign policy approaches from divergence to convergence, it will, at least, prevent further escalation of differences for a while. The fluid foreign policy adopted by Turkey’s Justice and Development Party government and the current moderate administration in the Islamic Republic of Iran has the capacity to enable the two countries to engage in effective interaction despite having major differences over such issues as the situation in Syria and Iraq.

Key WordsIran, Turkey, Relations, Ahmet Davutoglu, Reduced Tension, Increased Interaction, Cease-Fire, Syria, Western Allies, US, Iran's Domestic Politics, Elections, Islamic Consultative Assembly (Majlis), Assembly of Experts, Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Iranian Economy, Justice and Development Party, Vahedi

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*Photo Credit: The Iran Project

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