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Turkey Ready to Contribute for the Betterment of Relations Between Saudi Arabia and Iran

Monday, October 10, 2016

Exclusive Interview with Reza Hakan Tekin, Turkish Ambassador to Tehran
By: Sara Massoumi

The region is holding its breath. The Middle East suffers from security unrest, human suffering and futility of political approaches. Borders are no more capable of preventing spillover of insecurity and domestic problems of countries in this region. Crisis is rapidly spreading from Iraq to Syria, from Syria to Turkey, from Turkey to member states of the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council, and from the Middle East to North Africa and Europe. The most feared terrorist group, which is known as Daesh, is cutting heads in Syria, creating terror in Iraq and disturbing tranquility of blue-eyed Europeans in Brussels through a terrorist operation. In the absence of political cooperation among officials of regional countries, crises converge and coalesce. If Syria topped the list of regional news during past five years, today, Turkey and Iraq have frequently hit the headlines in regional and extra-regional media. It was the middle of July when Turkish soldiers stormed the streets like many other occasions in the political history of Turkey in order to turn the table through a coup d’état. People, however, poured into the streets in support of democracy and the coup failed. Following the failed coup, Turkey has been undergoing a transformation both in terms of its domestic policy and its foreign policy. Turkey’s friends have changed and the sweeping wave of arrests still continues inside the country. Figures released by Turkish government of those who have been allegedly involved in the failed coup are soaring day by day, but Riza Hakan Tekin, Turkey’s ambassador to Iran says justice will be dispensed for every single one of them. Hakan Tekin is among the most active foreign envoys in Iran. He is not afraid of talking to the Iranian media and even tries to talk a few steps beyond the limits of usual diplomatic conservatism. Tekin was born in Turkey’s capital city of Ankara in 1967, graduated from university in 1989 and started his career at the country’s Foreign Ministry in December 1990. His track records in this ministry include activities in such areas as culture, human rights, Central Asia and the Balkans. He has already served at Turkey's embassies in Abu Dhabi and Bulgaria and its permanent mission to the UN in New York. From 2011 to 2014, he was heading the Iraq desk at Turkey’s Foreign Ministry. Since October 15, 2014, Tekin has been in Tehran and believes that relations between Tehran and Ankara have changed for the better following the failed coup. The reasons behind judicial prosecutions in Turkey, Turkish government’s response to critics, the possibility of handing down death sentences to coup plotters, the latest state of Gulen’s extradition from the United States, the impact of the coup attempt on relations between Iran and Turkey and Turkey’s viewpoint on the existing tensions between Tehran and Riyadh were among major topics discussed with Riza Hakan Tekin in the following interview:

You once told a presser that you have been identifying the infiltration of the Gulen movement after the coup. On the other hand, Turkish justice minister has recently told NTV that the police have arrested 32 thousand individuals since the latest coup. Seventy thousand individuals are under investigations over links to Gulen. How far will this go?

It will go to the end because we have faced a very vital threat and because what we are facing is not a typical organization. They have been infiltrating to important state structures like the military, the interior ministry and the judiciary for many years. There have been some suspects based on previous investigations before the coup, so the process was quickened after the bloody coup. But of course new investigations are also being carried out based on new findings and we are trying to discover the existing elements of this terrorist organization within our state institutions. This is not an easy task. We have been very careful because we also want to do justice. While fighting this terrorist group, we also want to stay within democratic principles, not to harm anybody’s rights. Unfortunately, this group is expert in propaganda. They still have many people outside Turkey and they are disseminating a lot of lies. They are trying to present themselves as the victims rather than the perpetrators of this coup attempt which resulted in 241 deaths in Turkey. And if they had succeeded in it, they would have totally dismantled the constitutional order in Turkey. So, in line with the level of the threat we faced, of course these investigations, prosecutions, will continue until we hopefully clear all these people from state government.

1.      Do you think it is possible to bring justice to more than 32 thousand people?

Well, why not. We do have a legal process, so if any of these people who have been fired or have been subject to other measures can prove that they are really innocent, then of course the necessary rectifying decisions would be made. We are not trying to dismantle the justice system in Turkey. In fact these guys were trying to do that, by infiltrating even to the judiciary. It was found out that many of the high judges and important courts were infiltrated by these people. When we look back at some previous trials in the last seven or eight years, it is understood that many of these trials were carried out unfairly, just to serve the interests of this group. Some very high-profile people including military officials, politicians and journalists were targeted just because it was seen that they would not serve their interests. They wanted to eliminate them from their current posts, either in the state or outside the state and then insert their people instead.

2.      Why these people who, you think, took part in the coup in a way, could not be found or sued by the intelligence service before the coup?

Let me remind you that this group had concealed itself very well for many years. They were seen basically as a regular religious group which also had some press organizations, NGOs, business operations, and which also worked in the field of interfaith dialogue. So when you looked at their words, their writings, it was all about peace, harmony, cooperation and similar themes. Nobody knew the real nature of the group, until December 2013, about three years ago, when they started a process through their people in the judiciary, against some very high-profile politicians including some officials. It turned out that they had fabricated fake evidences to prosecute those politicians. After that initiative, our government and our state bodies of course started a very serious investigation and some measures were taken already. But even at that time, nobody had guessed that these people would try to initiate a military coup, and such a bloody one. Because the extent of their infiltration to the army was also not known. At that time, many legal preparations were made, and some cases were opened against some people or institutions which were involved with this group. Following the coup attempt, state of emergency was declared in line with our constitution. Hence it became easier to process these cases. Because what we are faced is indeed an emergency situation. Bearing in mind the killing of 240 people, bombing of the parliament, firing on peaceful and unarmed resisting people, you cannot treat these people like simple criminals. These are people who tried to change the system in our country and empower themselves by non-democratic and violent means. And to achieve their aim, it turns out, they have started infiltrating the state institutions since 1980s.

3.      Some months after the coup, do you think the Turkish government has the support of the majority of people in Turkey?

A: Of course, because Turkish people, after experiencing the night of the coup attempt, also understood how dangerous these people are. So the Turkish public is very much supportive of fighting against this group in the legal field, in the intelligence field or whatever field necessary. There was a strong joint declaration adopted in the parliament against this coup attempt, just a few hours after it. This was a very important thing in our opinion as it showed the unity of the people. And for a few weeks, there were public protests against the coup attempt which were attended by people of different political backgrounds. They showed their solidarity with the legitimate state institutions. These are indications of strong public support on fighting this group. Now of course like in every democratic country, we have opposition parties and throughout the weeks, some opposition parties started leveling some criticism against some measures. This can be accepted in any democratic country. And there is dialogue in the parliament, there is dialogue among the parties. Our ruling party, Justice and Development Party, said they are always open to dialogue. And if there is anything wrong in this process we can sit down and talk, and hear the criticisms and then see what we can do, to better serve justice.

4.      What about the death penalty?

That should be understood as a reaction in the heat of the moment. When you see such sad scenes, tanks crushing unarmed people or soldiers firing on peaceful protesters, there emerged hard feelings against the people behind all this. As you may know we had banned death penalty many years ago. So after this bloody coup attempt the idea of reinstating the death penalty was floated by some circles. Our president was also vocal on that. However, this is not an issue now. And we should also bear in mind one of the fundamental principles of law that any new law you enact, if it is against the perpetrator, you cannot apply it backwards. If for instance tomorrow, the Turkish parliament adopts a law reintroducing death penalty it cannot be applied to the people or criminals who perpetrated such crimes before the adoption of that law. For almost a month, this issue has not been raised again. Of course, if the necessary majority at the parliament adopts such a law it can be reintroduced, but I personally don’t think that this would be the case.

5.      At what stage is the investigation of the documents, Turkey claims, which show the coup was linked to Gulen? Many informed sources believe the US will not extradite Gulen. Do you have any plans for such a scenario?

A: We don’t want to prejudge the process. We believe we have a very strong case and we explained our sensitivities to our US counterparts. I think the US is also aware of how important this is for us. What they told us is that they have to examine all the information, documents we provide, through their judiciary process and it may take time. Of course, we want that to be as soon as possible because this is something as I said very important for us and also keeping this guy, the head of this terrorist organization, Fethullah Gülen, free, means that he can still organize and coordinate his terrorist activities. That’s why we are pushing and following this very closely with the US. We provided over eighty-five boxes of documents, after the coup, and may provide more in due course. Some new findings might appear and are appearing in fact, so we will be providing additional documentation further proving that Fetullah Gulen is the leader of this coup and what they tried to do was basically dismantling the state structure in Turkey. Hence they are criminals and terrorists. We have a bilateral treaty between Turkey and the United States for the repatriation of criminals, like we do between Turkey and Iran. So in line with that international agreement, we want him to be repatriated.

6.      If the US does not agree with your documents, are you going to publish them to clarify the situation for at least the Turkish people?

 Of course, I mean a lot of things have been already in the Turkish press and most of the documentation I believe are not secret documents. So of course I mean we’ll do our utmost to convince the US that the first thing they have to do on this issue is to give this man back to us, for him to be brought to justice.

7.      You have emphasized in an interview that Turkey is not going to shift its foreign policy but that all the sides should take a step back in order to find a solution for issues of Syria and Iraq, taking into account all the strata. What step back is Turkey ready for?

 What I said was that in order to reach a solution in a complicated situation like in Syria where the parties are not only one or two, all involved parties should sit down and rethink their positions and everybody should take a step back, not only Turkey. In order to have a sustainable and lasting solution to the existing problems, such as the Syrian crisis, we should have a wide-based agreement. Otherwise if one side imposes its positions on the other sides, let’s say as a result of some military victory, one might think that this has been solved, but actually it will bring much deeper problems, that was the idea behind my words. We are ready to contribute to that process, and in fact we have been doing every effort to that end.

8.      Some sources are saying that Turkey has become more flexible over the future of Bashar al-Assad.

Well, when you look at our position, after what has been experienced in Syria, we did not want Bashar Assad to take any role even in the transition process. Because we believe he is the primary responsible of all this bloodshed with his policies and actions throughout more than five years. So we believed that he should not have any part in the process. At this point, we say he may have some role in the transition but not in the final phase that is a no-go for our policy. Because it will be an affront to the Syrians themselves. Syria’s future cannot be tied to one person. I am sure they can bring up a much better candidate who can embrace and have the trust of the nation of Syria as a whole. Someone who can reinstate peace and stability in the country.  

9.      But recently, Mr. Kerry talked to opposition groups in NY, telling them that they may have to accept Mr. Assad in the election and let the Syrians decide about him. Do you thinks Turkey is ready to accept Assad and let Syrians decide his future?

 Well, I don’t think so because as I said this is not about that we do not like Assad or so, this is about what he has done, what he is responsible for. After all he has done, I mean he’s still barrel-bombing his own people, villages, cities, he’s still bombing the hospitals in Aleppo, how can one think that such a ruthless person who has the primary responsibility on all this bloodshed, can still be accepted as a candidate for the future of Syria.

10.  What if the Syrian people want him?

 We don’t currently have necessary free and fair circumstances for the Syrian people to make their will counted. Under the current conditions, if you organize an election, what kind of an election that will be. There are not free and fair conditions for that election. And of course, half of the population has been displaced. One third has been outside the country, we have close to three million Syrians in Turkey. How will their votes be counted? Of course our primary policy is the future of Syria should be decided by the Syrian people only, nobody else. But I think Syrian people have already made that decision. When you look at the facts on the ground, I don’t think the majority of Syrian would want Assad to continue ruling their country.

11.  Do you think Iran-Turkey relations have changed after the coup?

Yes, of course. Turkey and Iran are traditionally close neighbors. Of course, we have our own problems, some bilateral issues which are not very significant and some differences on regional issues. But we have always kept our dialogue, our close distance. Iran’s speedy support to our legitimate government after the coup attempt created a new positive environment to further our relations. That is why we are now in a more optimistic mindset in terms of the future of our relationship. Of course there are a lot of things to be done. And hopefully in the coming weeks we will have some substantial high-level exchanges with Iran. As you may know, after the coup attempt there has been a lot of contact between our foreign ministers. Zarif went to Turkey twice, Çavuşoğlu came once. The presidents met in New York. Add to that a lot of telephone conversation between our leaders. So there has indeed been a momentum between our relationships. We are now working on the visit of our minister of economy to Iran so we can materialize some concrete projects for the betterment of our relations in this field.

12.  What about the presidential visit?

 Our president’s visit is not envisaged in the short-run. There have been some news, I don’t know where it came up from, but there was never a scheduled visit in a short time.  But next year, in 2017, that visit will probably happen as Turkey and Iran usually have this level of contact in not big intervals. So hopefully in the first half of next year we can have that visit and on this occasion we can have the next meeting of our high-level cooperation council.

13.  It seems that Syria was a hot topic in Zarif’s latest visit to Turkey, and some sources said there was an agreement on aid to Aleppo. Could you provide some details? Is there going to be any concrete mutual cooperation for sending help to Syria between Iran and Turkey?

 We are working very hard on that with other partners as well as with Iran. As you said, in those contacts, this was one of the main issues discussed. It is still a work in progress I should say. We are hoping that we can finalize and we can reflect those ideas which we took up with Iran to the field, so can we can provide some much needed relief to the Syrian people who are suffering from this war. We are still working on that.

14.  The Turkish parliament have just voted to extend the mandate of the country’s military troops in Syria and Iraq. In the meantime, the Iraqi parliament recently voted with absolute majority for a statement that called on the Iraqi government to file a complaint against Turkey at the UN Security Council and formally describe Turkish troops as an “occupying” force. Why does Turkey insist on this military involvement?

 This is nothing new, thank you for this question. This decree in the Turkish parliament has been renewed since almost ten years ago. In the previous years, we didn’t have such reactions from the Iraqi parliament. Why this year is also a question for us, especially when we are fighting ISIS and other terrorist organizations to kick them out from our region, especially from Iraq and Syria. And then Turkey, a country at the forefront of all these efforts, has been targeted by the Iraqi parliament. Now, why are we involved militarily in Iraq? In a perfect world of course, we would not. Iraq is still a country where the central government cannot exert is authority fully in its territory. And we are bearing the negative repercussions of the situation.  PKK, as you know, a terrorist organization we have been dealing with for almost forty years, is based on Iraqi territory, in Qandil Mountains, which is close to the Iran border as well, where the central government has no authority. So we have been telling the Iraqi government for many years, this is the case since 1991, for almost 25 years. For 25 years, the Iraqi government could do nothing to kick out this terrorist group, which is involved in very bloody acts in Turkey for many years, from its territory. We lost more than forty thousand of our citizens due to PKK terrorist activity. And then, of course, if they cannot do it, for us this becomes a self-defense issue.

15.  Don’t you consider the unsolicited presence a violation of Iraq’s sovereignty?

We are not targeting Iraqi forces, we are not targeting Iraqi territorial integrity, and we are not targeting Iraqi sovereignty. We are maybe the staunchest supporter of Iraqi territorial integrity and sovereignty. But unfortunately, facts on the ground are facts and the Iraqi government cannot establish itself not only in that Qandil area but also fail to have much power in the areas controlled by KRG. And since for more than two years, we have had ISIS occupying Mosul and the area around it. So this is the reality of this country. And it is even worse in Syria. There is no authority in the country, and these two countries are our bordering countries. With Syria, we have 911-km border, with Iraq we have 350-km border. And the terrorist groups are infiltrating through these borders. So of course, our primary preference would be that security and stability is established in these countries by their own legitimate authorities, so that we will not have to deal with the negative effects of this situation in our country. But unfortunately that’s not the case. In Iraq as I explained, we have that situation so that’s why we need to take measures. And this is in line with international law, with the charter of United Nations, and with the relevant Security Council resolutions.

16Have you had serious negotiations with the Iraqi government about the situation in these two years?

We try to reach out and we have been a supporter of Prime Minister al-Abadi since he started his job more than two years ago. But I should say that unfortunately, we could not receive a good response to our friendly approach. As I said, we have no secret agenda. We don’t want to micromanage Iraq, we don’t want to discriminate among certain groups within Iraq. We want the good of all Iraqi people. We don’t want any special region of influence in Iraq. We want Iraq to have a strong unitary state. Because this is also in our interest. When your neighbors are stable, strong, peaceful and prosperous, it will have positive impact on you, and vice versa. It affects your economy, your security, everything. So that’s why we have always been trying to do that, but unfortunately, as you know Iraq is going through a very difficult period. There are lots of circles within Iraq which are carrying out their own agenda. What we believe is that there should be a national agenda. The Iraqi political forces should agree on the minimum common ground so that they can work for the betterment of their country. We are ready to contribute to that process.

17.  Regarding Iraq and US relations, have the US tried to mediate between Turkey and Iraq? Because it seems that tension between Turkey and Iraq is the last thing that the region needs.

A: We don’t need any mediation from anywhere for our relations with Iraq. It is a very close neighboring country to us. It will be absurd to ask a third country to mediate between Turkey and Iraq. We have constant contact with all Iraqi groups, all religious groups as well as all political, ethnic groups. So it is not about mediation but it is about mutual will. We have that will, but Iraq unfortunately, since it is going through a difficult period, I think it is hard for them to make some decisions. If there is real willingness, then the two countries can manage the situation.

18.  MR.Erdogan said in an interview that Turkey would take part in Mosul offensive, in an attempt to prevent the city’s religious and demographic contexture. Iraqi and American armies are involved in the offensive and say they do not need Turkey’s help. Why is Ankara insisting?

A: If they’re able to do it, we welcome that. But everybody knows the reality. The Iraqi government itself is not able to do that, Iraqi army itself is not able to do that. Let’s rewind two years and two months back. Do you remember how Mosul was fallen to ISIS? In Mosul, there were more than 70-thousand-strong Iraqi army but a thousand of ISIS terrorists came in and all of them ran away. This was Iraqi army. Because it was not run in a good way. Hopefully, today, after two years, the Iraqi army is in a better shape. We hope so. But it still seems not enough by itself to reclaim the lost territory to this terrorist group. So we are ready to contribute to that, and our contribution should not be seen as, as I said before, that we want to be an influential player in Iraq. No. Iraq’s future should be decided by Iraqis. And why for instance, the US’s role or some other countries’ role are not questioned in terms of Mosul? US is ten thousand kilometers away from Mosul while the city is just across our border. Of course we cannot sit idle and watch events across our border when there is a chaotic situation. Because such a situation is not only affecting Iraq but also us. When you see what has been happening inside Turkey especially in the last two years, after the emergence of ISIS, we experienced a lot of terrorist activities carried out by ISIS. We lost hundreds of our people to those attacks. And then lots of refugees came to Turkey. When you start an operation in Mosul, right now about two million people are living in Mosul, in the time of the operation, the estimates made by independent groups indicate that maybe half of that would run away. And the closest country to seek refuge is Turkey. So, it will be absurd for us to say that ok, whatever you do, we will just sit by watch. Of course we will act, we have a direct stake in Mosul for our own security.

19.  Different media outlets have interpreted Erdogan’s remark about Mosul as anti-Shiite, directing concerning Shiites of Iraq. What’s your response?

A:. What our president wanted to emphasize, was that Mosul’s liberation should not be seen as a sectarian struggle. Because Mosul as you know, is overwhelmingly a Sunni province. There are of course other denominations, Shias, especially in Tel Afar, Christians, Yazidis, and also various ethnic groups, Kurds, Turkmen, apart from Arabs. So what our president said was simply expressing our concerns. Because of a lot of talk in the recent days and weeks about the involvement of Hashd al-Shaabi force in Iraq, that they should have direct role in the liberation of Mosul. We believe that it would be a very wrong move. Because Hashd al-Shaabi is seen especially by the Iraqi Sunnis as a totally Shiite force. And it is not the national army of Iraq. If it was maybe integrated to the national structures, maybe that would have been less problematic. But under the current circumstances and in view of the recent history of Iraq, what has happened since 2003 after the American invasion, I think those concerns are understandable. So we don’t want some sort of demographic engineering after the liberation of Mosul, because we faced that in some other parts of Iraq; in Diyala for instance, which was a mixed province close to your border, and then many Sunnis were thrown out of their homes. And what has recently happened in Fallujah, in Ramadi? All these are increasing the concerns. We believe it could be very wrong signal to the people of Mosul. We believe this operation should be carried out by the national army and the local forces. So give them that chance, the local people, to liberate their own province. That is the main reason. We are not trying to stoke sectarian tensions, to the contrary we are concerned about sectarian repercussions of a wrong move.

20.  The IMC, a pro-Kurds TV channel, was shut down by the police, last week. Don’t you think that the crisis between the Turkish government and the Kurds will be aggravated with such policies? What are your crisis management solutions?

Well, all those closures are made for a reason, based on a legal process. So, if there are some let’s say things which would justify the reopening of those channels or newspapers, then the necessary decisions will be taken I am sure. These are legal processes, I cannot comment much on that. Because, absolutely, they acted on some information or documentation on these institutions. We’ll see when the legal process is completed, we can make a better judgment about that. How that will affect? What our leaders always say regarding the Kurds, we have no issue with Kurds neither inside Turkey nor outside Turkey. But we have issues with terrorism. And terrorism, if it is Kurdish terrorism or Arabic terrorism or Shia terrorism or Sunni terrorism or whatever type, it does not make difference for us. For us, this is something which should be fought. Maybe, initially there are some reactions, but when people better understand what the reasons behind all these decisions are and of course after the completion of these judiciary processes, hopefully everything will be calm.

21.  It was because of the treat of the Kurds you entered Syrian territory, to keep them away from your country. At the beginning Mr. Erdogan tried to talk to these Kurds and negotiate with them.

If you accept PYD as the sole representative of the Syrian Kurds, then this is a very wrong assumption. PYD is the Syrian military arm of PKK and they get their instructions from Qandil Mountains. This is very obvious and clear for us. We told them at the beginning, their leader was invited to Turkey a few times, that we can work with you but we have some preconditions. You have to distance yourself from PKK, you have to be an indigenous Syrian group, don’t take your instructions from Qandil. If you prove yourself to be an independent Syrian Kurdish entity, then we can work with you. And second, we wanted them to distance themselves from the Syrian regime, because we knew that they were collaborating with Bashar Assad. These two issues were very important for us. And of course, third thing, we said that, don’t impose your will on the people where you are powerful. Be a democratic group. They did the opposite in all these three issues and that’s why we could not cooperate with them. Our military operation, the Euphrates Shield Operation, started on 24 of August, its sole aim is to clean up our border area from terrorists because we have been suffering from those terrorist attacks. They raided Turkey with rockets. It is about fighting Daesh. We so far did not fight with YPG in that area but we told them that they should leave those areas, especially the areas where there is no Kurdish population.

Because their main aim is to establish a contagious Syrian Kurdish entity at the north of the country. But the population structure does not allow them. Maybe, everybody is drawing parallelism with Iraq; there is KRG, this big chunk of Kurdish territory in the north of Iraq. But in Syria, the Kurdish population is basically in three pockets and there are no links in between because on those regions between them Arabs live, Turkmen live, other Syrian communities live. They want to impose basically a fait accompli, using the chaotic situation in Syria. And thanks also to some wrong policies of some other countries, they also try to legitimize themselves like they claim to be the only group who can fight Daesh, but our military operation showed that this was not true.

22.  Do you ever point to the Yemeni file during your negotiations with the Saudi Arabia? Has Ankara undertaken any efforts to stop the massacre of civilians during Saudi raids? It seems that the massacre of Yemeni civilians is ignored because of the Syrian crisis and the ISIS.

A: I don’t think so. Of course, this is very sad, loss of human lives. Of course, we talk about that when we meet Saudi officials, we want a peaceful solution to the problem in Yemen but also we don’t want any imposition from any group. You remember in Yemen, there was this peace process that started a few months ago, in Kuwait, there had been extensive talks between the parties and the presence of the international community. Unfortunately, this did not bring result. You should not only blame one party on why this result was achieved. We believe there are certain international documents, UN Security Council resolution that set the basic parameters for a solution. If the other parties, I mean the Houthis and Saleh group accepted that, I think it would be much easier to find a solution to Yemen [crisis].

23.  Do you think bombardment will bring peaceful result, because it is now about the civilian places they bomb?

 Of course, the bombardments will not bring results, especially if they are bombing civilians. However, we see that more dramatically in Syria.

24.  But there you are a critic of some players who are trying to change the game using raids. What about Saudi Arabia in Yemen? Is not it doing the same?

 Well, it is not of course the way you put it. From your question, one can understand that Saudi Arabia is making these efforts only to bombard civilian areas. This is not the case. According to what we have been told, they are aiming military targets.

25.  What about pictures of kids?

That is very sad, we expressed our concerns about that. Even when you are fighting your enemy, you should remain within the borders of law, especially the law of war. We are sad about that, any bloodshed is for us not acceptable but the Saudi Arabia is not the only responsible party in this thing, that’s what I am trying to say.

26.  Mr. Zarif and Muhammad bin Nayef visited Ankara separated by a few hours. You are aware of the magnitude of differences between Tehran and Riyadh. Taking into account Mr. Erdogan’s remarks that ties with Iran have improved, how is Turkey going to maintain the balance between the sides?

A: When we pursue our relations with our neighbors or other countries, we don’t see any of those relations linked with another country. If for instance, Iran and Saudi Arabia are having a very problematic period in their relations, we manage to establish very well and maintain good relations with both countries. Of course, we are not happy about the current state of affairs between Iran and Saudi Arabia because we believe Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey are three important countries of our region. Any lasting sustainable solution to our existing problems should be done with the cooperation of these three countries, of course, with the involvement of some others as well, but especially with these very three important countries. Therefore, that is why we believe, for our region also, I mean beyond the bilateral aspect, it is not helping. We want to use our good relations with both countries, for any chances that can be used to have some movement in that crisis. We will be more than happy to do that. And our president, in his separate meetings last April with the Saudi King and President Rouhani, who were in Turkey for the OIC Summit as well as bilateral visits, made an effort to this end. Of course there is still a lot of tension, a lot of hard feelings between the two countries. If some movement can be done, it will have a good effect on our region, but it is not easy, very challenging. But we are always ready to contribute, you know, for any betterment of relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran. And we have given that message at the highest level. Let’s hope it will work in the near future.

*Photo Credit: Aljazeera.com

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

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