This article represents an effort to explore various angles of Tehran’s relations with Ankara with special emphasis on the interactive rivalry that is embedded in the two countries’ relations. The Turkish prime minister came to Iran accompanied with a delegation comprising his country’s ministers of economy, customs and trade, energy, transportation, as well as communications and developments. The trip took place on the verge of the new round of Syria peace talks, which have been scheduled for March 9th in Geneva. On the other hand, Turkish prime minister was taking his first trip to Iran after the Justice and Development Party won the general elections on November 1st, 2015. This trip, therefore, is important in that as an extension of sinusoidal relations between Tehran and Ankara, it took place at one of the most crucial junctures in history of the two countries’ relations and at a time when there are many incentives to open a new chapter in strategic relations between Iran and Turkey because:
1) In view of conditions that govern the Middle East in this period, especially with the beginning of temporary truce in Syria, implementation of Iran’s nuclear deal, removal of sanctions imposed on Tehran, holding of two general elections in Turkey between June 7th and November 1st, and increasing power of the Justice and Development Party in the domestic political arena of Turkey and also in the light of successful holding of two important elections in Iran for the Islamic Consultative Assembly and the Assembly of Experts, the timing of the Turkish prime minister’s visit has been totally accurate and well-calculated.
2) A change of course from a destructive approach to a realistic one with regard to developments in Syria has already taken place, so that, during this period, the two countries have not allowed transregional powers to make all-out interventions and in doing so, they have provided ground for change and created an opportunity for a new start in regional cooperation and fighting terrorism and extremism in the two countries’ relations.
3) Bilateral needs in economic fields: Turkey is Iran’s gate to Europe while Iran is Turkey’s gate to Asia. Turkey and Iran are two active markets in the region and in order to support mutual investments in future, the two countries’ banking systems clearly need to boost cooperation. The two countries must also make important decisions to promote collaboration in the fields of tourism, trade, transportation and economy, which are considered as supplementary pieces in the puzzle of the competitive interaction between Tehran and Ankara.
4) With regard to issue of energy, Iran is a big producer of energy and Turkey is a major consumer and at the same time is considered as a country with immense potential for energy transit.
5) The decision made by Tehran and Ankara to hold regular sessions of their common economic and trade cooperation committee and to hold the 25th session of the committee in the current year in Turkey, as a committee which can serve as a serious mechanism to draw up a roadmap for bilateral cooperation between Tehran and Ankara in the new era, is sign of the serious resolve of the two countries’ high-ranking officials to give new impetus to bilateral economic and trade relations and make those relations immune against all kinds of political and diplomatic tensions. In fact, in view of the composition of the delegation accompanying Turkey’s prime minister in his Iran visit, the two countries seem to be set on course for a new beginning through preferential opening in their ties.
6) After the beginning of the civil war in Syria, Iran and Turkey were pitted against each other, but they have apparently reached the common understanding that the two countries’ security is interrelated and when one country’s security is at jeopardy, the other country’s security will also become shaky. Therefore, they see each other as friends, not threats. Therefore, though Turkey and Iran have taken a maximal approach to Syria, this trip can bring their ideas closer together in the run-up to the next round of Syria peace talks.
7) Understandings of Turkey and Iran of various issues are different on the basis of ideology and political outlooks of these two important political players in the region. This issue is not simply due to presence of an Islamic government in Iran, but also has its roots in the two countries’ rivalry in addition to their historical backgrounds. Turkey, however, has never allowed its relations with Iran to take shape on the basis of this understanding. On the other hand, Iran has not been willing to base its relations with Turkey on ideology. Therefore, relations between the two countries are multifaceted and problems existing between Tehran and Ankara are mostly of a tactical nature without necessarily reflecting existence of strategic problems between the two sides.
8) Although it seems that there is no rivalry between Turkey and Saudi Arabia, a major challenge exists between the two countries. Turkey promotes a Muslim Brotherhood model of governance in the region while Saudi Arabia supports the model of Salafist Islamists. The point is that Iran and Saudi Arabia are practically at loggerheads all across the Arab world and wherever Iran’s power has risen, Saudi Arabia has felt it as limitation to its own power and vice versa. Such a problem, however, does not exist between Tehran and Ankara.
9) Tehran can act as mediator to help improve relations between Ankara and Moscow, because relations between Turkey and Russia have never been more tense and reciprocal sanctions they have imposed against each other have gone far beyond simple economic issues.
10) Iran and Turkey are in agreement over the need to maintain territorial integrity of Syria and share a similar stance in this regard. Tehran believes that independence of Kurds would pave the way for Israel’s presence in the region while Ankara considers it a threat to its national security and territorial integrity.
Therefore, the recent trip to Tehran by Davutoglu, which was carried out according to a very important and critical schedule, can be considered as a turning point in the two countries’ relations following the start of the ongoing crisis in Syria, and can raise hope about the opening of a new chapter in regional cooperation within framework of Tehran - Ankara relations. (Reza Solat, Iran Review)