Unfriendly Remarks Mar Iran-Turkey Developing Relations

Monday, April 6, 2015

Elyas Vahedi
Expert on Turkey and Caucasus Affairs

It seemed in recent years that despite severe differences of opinion on the situation in Syria and some other regional issues, the two neighboring countries of Iran and Turkey are really interested in expanding bilateral relations. However, recent remarks made by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on the role of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Yemen and Iraq, just on the threshold of his expected visit to Iran, have stirred anger among Iranian political circles. Following the Turkish president, the country’s Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu issued warning about the consequences of “some countries’” policies in Yemen, without directly mentioning Iran by name. Of course, Turkish media moved fast to note that the main addressee of the prime minister’s remarks was Iran. In view of the two countries’ determination to expand and deepen relations, anti-Iran remarks made by some Turkish officials have been considered unacceptable and unfriendly by many Iranian officials, especially members of the Islamic Consultative Assembly (Majlis).

Apart from the existing criticism that has been raised by certain media circles in Iran, a more accurate probe into Erdoğan’s critical remarks about Iran's regional role may reveal Ankara’s effort to curry favor with Saudi Arabia as the most important reason behind those remarks. Let’s not forget that Saudi Arabia is currently Iran's opposite front with regard to most regional issues. Following the enthronement of the new Saudi king, Turkey has been trying to mend fences with Saudi Arabia. The two countries’ relations were relatively tarnished after a military coup in Egypt. Therefore, Ankara is probably trying to use the influence of Riyadh in order to change the approach of the new Egyptian government and provide more breathing space for the country’s Muslim Brotherhood. The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood is the most powerful Arab ally of Turkey in the region and the social support base of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party has streaks of Muslim Brotherhood in it. On the other hand, the new Turkish government’s development drive is another reason, which has made Turkey try to get closer to this powerful Arab social and political current.

In addition to Erdoğan’s recent remarks, insistence of Turkish government for his forthcoming visit to Iran to take place on time is also of interest. On the one hand, the Turkish president has been trying to get closer to Saudi Arabia on Middle East issues by criticizing Iran's stances on the situation in Syria, Yemen and Iraq. On the other hand, he is trying to pursue his proclaimed plan for doubling economic exchanges with the Islamic Republic. A recent agreement between Iran and the P5+1 group of countries reached in the Swiss city of Lausanne has further increased Turkey’s willingness to expand economic relations with Iran. Unlike Saudi Arabia and some other Arab countries, Turkey has never been concerned about a possible agreement between Iran and the West over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear issue and, on the contrary, has been a regular supporter of such agreement. This is true because the agreement will ensure Turkey’s strategic economic and security interests along its eastern border when Iran rejoins the international community and its nuclear program comes under international supervision. In the case of a war between Iran and the West, Turkey will be one of the main countries to find itself at loss.

In view of the above facts, it should be noted that unfriendly remarks by Turkish officials about Iran's regional role may help Turkey get closer to Arab states. However, Ankara will earn this closeness in return for losing the benefits that it may reap through good neighborly relations with Iran. There is no doubt that such remarks will have a negative effect on the two countries’ efforts to expand relations and will also slow down implementation of plans they have made to this end.

Key Words: Iran,Turkey, Relations, Unfriendly Remarks, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Saudi Arabia, Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, Middle East, Syria, Vahedi

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