Iranian Top Diplomat Terms His Turkey Visit “Productive” Amid Tensions

Orkhan Jalilov Feature 25 March 2021
Iranian Top Diplomat Terms His Turkey Visit “Productive” Amid Tensions

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has described his visit to Turkey and talks with his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu as “productive” and “constructive”, amid strained relations over conflicts in the Middle East region.

Productive trip to wonderful Istanbul for talks with my brother, FM @MevlutCavusoglu," Zarif wrote in a Twitter message on March 19. "As before, constructive engagement on bilateral and regional issues. Ultimate aim: Apply Iran and Turkey's experience of 400 years of peace to our region. Together, anything is possible," he added.

In a meeting in Istanbul earlier on Friday, the two top diplomats discussed the cooperation in the field of fighting terrorism, bilateral relations and regional developments, especially the latest developments in Syria, according to the Iranian state news agency IRNA

The Iranian and Turkish foreign ministers also discussed economic and trade relations, including the date, and agenda of Iran-Turkey Joint Economic Commission.

In the "Tehran Dialogue Forum" held online in Tehran on March 16, Mevlut Cavusoglu divided the politics of the countries in the region into constructive and non-constructive and noted that constructive policies can be a stimulus for peace and diplomacy. 

"Iran and Turkey, as two important regional powers, have continued their close political talks on regional issues, and despite some differences that are natural; they never stopped interacting with each other," the Turkish foreign minister said.

He also expressed his country’s supports for the US tendency to return back to the Iranian nuclear deal, and hoped for the deal's revival.

Tensions between Ankara and Tehran have arisen recently, as Iranian-backed Shiite militias in Iraq have built up their presence in Iraq’s northern Sinjar region and issued statements threatening Ankara over carrying out counterterrorism operations in northern Iraq.

On October 9, the federal government in Baghdad signed a joint security agreement with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) over Sinjar, a Yazidi town in northwestern Iraq that fell to the Islamic State’s onslaught in 2014. Sinjar closely borders Syria’s al-Hasakah province to the northwest and Turkey’s Sirnak province to the northeast. This deal and intensified dialogue between Turkey and Iraq aim to curb the influence of the Kurdish PKK (Kurdistan Workers' Party) rebel group in a wider region in northern Iraq and eastern Syria. 

Turkey’s military operation against the PKK in a mountainous region close to Sinjar, in February, led to a spat between Ankara and Tehran, and prompted Turkey and Iran to each summon one another’s ambassador. The incident prompted Iran’s envoy to Baghdad, Iraj Masjedi, to warn that Turkish forces should not “pose a threat or violate Iraqi soil,” where Iran’s influence is strong. 

However, the Iraqi, Syrian and the Kurdish question are not the only policy areas where Tehran’s and Ankara’s interests may converge. The Iranian foreign minister said in June 2020 that “we have common views with the Turkish side on ways to end the crisis in Libya and Yemen,” indicating the possible emergence of a regional realignment between Iran and Turkey against the Saudi-led bloc in the Yemeni and Syrian conflicts.  

Since the start of the Saudi-led coalition’s invasion of Yemen in March 2015, Turkey supported the coalition’s military campaign, opposing the Iran-backed Houthis. However, Ankara changed its position toward the conflict since 2018, as Turkey’s relations with Saudi Arabia worsened over the Khashoggi murder scandal.

Both Tehran and Ankara are engaged in competing with Saudi Arabia for influence in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia has considered Iran its mortal enemy since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Turkey also started challenging Saudi Arabia in the Arab world, protecting the Sunni countries in the region.

Now, Turkey tries to increase its influence in the southern parts of Yemen, through actively supporting al-Islah Party, which is known as the Yemeni affiliate of the Muslim Brotherhood. 

In June 2020, there were reports that the Turkish-backed militants being deployed from Syria to Yemen to fight alongside pro-Brotherhood forces and against UAE-backed troops and fighters in the Southern Transitional Council. 

A Saudi-led coalition aimed at reinstating the Yemeni government has caused humanitarian crises with 233,000 people killed, nearly 80 per cent or about 30 million needing humanitarian assistance and protection, and over 13 million in danger of starvation.