Iran and Turkey have rebooted their ties — which had frayed on account of their regional political rivalry and sharp differences over embattled Syria — following the visit to Tehran of Turkish Prime Minster Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Remarks by Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the most authoritative voice in Tehran, after he had met with the Turkish leader, signalled that from an Iranian perspective, the political impediments to the relationship had been removed. Mr. Ayatollah Khamenei affirmed that “grounds are now well prepared for expansion of all-out relations between Iran and Turkey.”
The two sides established the high-powered Supreme Council for Political Cooperation during the visit, setting up an institutional mechanism to prioritise and advance the relationship. The Council will have a prominent political component, buttressed by a cultural and economic wing. Mr. Erdogan, described the new body as “crucially important,” which would set the tone of a close relationship where ministers of the two countries would work as if they were part of a “single cabinet.”
Analysts point out that it was unlikely that both countries would have launched such an ambitious undertaking, without arriving at an understanding on Syria. Along with Russia, Iraq and the Lebanese Hizbollah, Iran is one of the premier supporters of the government of President Bashar Al Assad, Turkey’s arch-foe. During the visit, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani made it plain that the Iranian position was not shifting when he remarked that “only the people of Syria should decide for the future of their country.”
The President’s observation reaffirming that Tehran rejected “regime change” in Syria, contradicted with the Turkish stance, held for long that Mr. Assad must leave in order to enable a political transition in the country.
Yet, there were visible signs that Turkey’s hardline position towards Syria may be shifting. Turkish broadcaster NTV is reporting that on Tuesday, Turkish troops have attacked inside Syria, positions of the Al-Qaeda affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which is opposed to the Assad government. The strike took place after a mortar shell fired from Syrian soil, probably the result of infighting between ISIL and the western backed Free Syrian Army (FSA), landed inside Turkish territory. A pick-up truck, a lorry, and a bus were apparently destroyed in the attack.
In Tehran, Mr. Erdogan said without referring to Syria specifically, that he stood firmly opposed to “terrorism” in the region. “We will widen our cooperation shoulder-to-shoulder with Iran in combating terrorist groups,” said the Turkish Prime Minister during talks with Mr. Rouhani.
Unsurprisingly, Mr. Erdogan’s visit to Iran has a prominent economic dimension. The Turkish Premier asserted Ankara’s deep interest in strengthening energy ties when he told reporters that his country imported “oil and natural gas from Iran and those are strategic products that Turkey imports from Iran and we can receive them more [than before].”