Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (C) meets with Minister of Foreign Affairs of Iran Muhammed Cevad Zarif (L) at Presidential Complex in Ankara, Turkey on June 07, 2017
Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, visited Ankara on June 7 on a not predetermined trip to meet with the Turkish authorities, especially President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Mevlut Cavusoglu, Turkish Foreign Minister, on common regional issues. On the reasons for his visit to Turkey, Mr. Zarif said that it was done within the framework of continued consultations with the authorities of Turkey, and that Iranian delegation would exchange views on the mutual issues of regional developments and Syria and other ongoing regional issues with President Erdogan and the Turkish Foreign Minister, Mr. Cavusoglu. Quoting the Turkish diplomats, Daily Sabah also announced that the reasons for Mr. Zarif’s trip to Turkey lie in the fact that Iran’s Foreign Ministry asked to talk with Turkish officials on the crisis in Syria with a priority of establishing a safe zone in the north of this country as well as on the recent crisis in relations between Qatar and other Arab countries.
Mr. Zarif’s trip to Ankara after the resulting tension between Qatar and other Arab countries and the diplomatic efforts of Iran and Turkey to prevent the escalation of the crisis can set the stage for the beginning and continuation of political and security cooperation between the two countries at the heart of the Arab Middle East crisis. Qatar as the ideological ally and trading partner of Turkey enjoys an important place in Turkey’s regional policies, especially after the establishment of a Turkish military base (in December 2015) in the territory of Qatar and the Persian Gulf region. Undoubtedly, Ankara will welcome any initiative to resolve the crisis created in the Arabian Peninsula. Adopting a proactive approach, Islamic Republic of Iran also seeks to prevent the escalation of tensions through dialogue and diplomatic means. In such a condition, a multilateral diplomacy with diplomatic initiatives offered by parties outside the crisis, particularly by Iran and Turkey, can prevent the spread of another crisis in the Arab Middle East.
Iran and Turkey as the two non-Arab regional powers, although have major disagreements, especially on Syria and Iraq, the pragmatism of both countries’ foreign policy has repeatedly shown that in critical situations, they are willing to engage in bilateral and multilateral talks - the last example can be seen in the Astana meeting for the establishment of a ceasefire in Syria. Despite the security and political divergence in the domestic crises in Syria and northern Iraq, there are currently several common topics on the changing regional issues that can prepare the ground for the regional convergence between Iran and Turkey.
Resolving the Qatar crisis and preventing the escalation of tensions among the Arab countries are on the common regional policy agenda of Iran and Turkey. The two countries are seeking to resolve the crisis through diplomatic channels. It will prove useful if Iran can broker Qatar-other Arab countries by negotiating with Egypt, and Turkey can mediate between them by negotiating with Saudi Arabia.
Though the Kurdish problem of the region has turned into a reason for the diverging security interests of the two countries in recent years, especially after the establishment of Rojava region in northern Syria and Massoud Barzani’s ambitions in northern Iraq, recent terrorist operations in the western borders of Iran by agents of the Kurdistan Free Life Party (PJAK), and security threats resulting from terrorist activities of the PKK in the southeastern border of Turkey have put the Kurdish security interests of the two countries once again in one direction. In recent years, the two countries have been victims of terrorist operations by agents affiliated to the PKK. Undoubtedly, recent moves of the PJAK militants on the western border of Iran will be among the topics of discussion between Mr. Zarif and Mr. Cavusoglu.
Iran and Turkey also have common positions on how to continue the operation for liberating Raqqa and on the role of America and its allied Kurdish forces (YPG). Due to the strategic isolation of Turkey in recent weeks, especially that President Erdogan came back empty-handed from Washington, that America ignores security concerns of Turkey in terms of equipping Kurdish forces in Syria and the withdrawal of German troops from Incirlik Air Base, it seems that Turkey will move toward establishing a strategic partnership with regional powers at the heart of the Middle East crisis. Many of the security concerns of Turkey somehow require the extensive political and security cooperation of this country with Iran.
Fighting against terrorism and dealing with the uncertainty resulting from unpredictable policies of the Trump administration in the Middle East are also other issues of common regional security concerns for Iran and Turkey. Two terrorist attacks in Iran on the Parliament building and the shrine of Imam Khomeini will undoubtedly strengthen the Iranian authorities’ decision for calling for/ improving the security cooperation with countries in the region to confront the ISIS terrorist operations.
Regional critical security challenges and issues need regional solutions within the framework of a multilateral diplomacy and a win-win game that can secure the national interests of regional countries. In the current situation, the crisis created in the Arabian Peninsula and the shared determination of Iran and Turkey to resolve it through diplomatic means can spread the scope of political and security cooperation between the two countries to the Syrian crisis, domestic developments in Iraq, the Kurdish activities in the region, and fighting against terrorism. The issue that what is on Mr. Zarif’s agenda in his trip to Ankara, and what will he suggest to the Turkish party to expand the regional cooperation will be decisive in converging regional interests of Iran and Turkey. For numerous domestic issues and its strategic isolation in the region, Turkey requires the cooperation and strategic partnership with Iran for dealing with the Middle East crises.
© The International
Vali Golmohammadi, a PhD candidate of International Relations at Tarbiat Modares University, is the fellow at Center for Strategic Research.
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