Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has concluded a meeting with his Turkish counterpart Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu in Ankara. While Iran/Turkey relations have long been on the upswing, they continue to move in a positive direction in some very crucial areas.
Most overtly, Turkey has been and remains a staunch defender of Iran’s right to trade with the wider world in spite of Washington’s unilateral re-imposition of incredibly harsh sanctions. This was made clear by Çavuşoğlu at his most recent meeting with Zarif.
Although Turkey received a waiver from the United States allowing Ankara to continue its purchases of Iranian energy, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has become one of the world’s foremost opponents of America’s anti-Iran sanctions. For Turkey, cross-border trade with Iran is a win-win reality that neither side seeks to lose in the event of America becoming even more extreme in its desire to cut Iran off from the rest of the word. As such, Turkey has a clear interest at stake that is partly reflected in its stalwart support of Iranian economic openness against American intimidation.
Beyond this, as the US looks ever more likely to sanction Turkey due to Ankara’s refusal to cancel the S-400 missile defence system deal with America’s Russian rival, in defending Iran against sanctions, Ankara is setting the precedent that if Turkey is willing to robustly defend neighbouring Iran against sanctions, Turkey’s response to would-be US sanctions will be all the more indefatigable.
Secondly, Iran and Turkey have moved closer together on the matter of the YPG/PKK and offshoot terrorists groups. Although Tehran has been mum on the issue, Turkey has confirmed Iran’s participation in recent joint anti-terror operations directed against the PKK and related groups. After their meeting, Zarif offered a statement which indicates that Iran is moving from a position of detachment from the question of YPG/PKK terror in Syria, to one that recognises the clear and present danger that the terrorists occupying north-eastern Syria pose to Turkey’s security and territorial unity. Speaking beside Çavuşoğlu, Zarif stated,
“We understand the concerns of Turkey about terrorist groups in Syria and we agree with them. The security and peace of the Turkish people are very important to us”.
Finally, Zarif has handed Çavuşoğlu a report prepared for President Erdoğan regarding Bashar al-Assad’s recent communications with Iran. This is highly significant as it demonstrates that even while Turkey has no formal relations with Assad’s Syria, Turkey is nevertheless prepared to examine a formal report regarding the state of Assad’s government after such a dossier was prepared specifically for Turkey by Assad’s longstanding Iranian partners.
Although it is virtually certain that Turkey has been privy to reports on Assad’s thoughts and activities from Ankara’s partners in Moscow and Tehran, the fact that a report regarding Assad has been publicly mentioned after a meeting of the Turkish and Iranian foreign ministers is significant. It demonstrates that as both Iran and Turkey look to draw the conflict in Syria to a close and begin a peace process,Turkey and Iran are subsequently moving closer to one another even though on paper, both sides take a dramatically opposed view of the conflict with Iran seeking the restoration of Assad’s rule over all of Syrian territory whilst Turkey still officially considers Assad’s leadership illegitimate.
It is likewise significant that as Iran and Turkey appear to be moving in a pragmatic direction in spite of differing views on Assad, such a pivot is occurring at a time when Moscow and Damascus are experiencing their strongest divergence of opinion on the future of Syria since the beginning of the present conflict. While Iran has no relations with Israel and while Turkey-Israel relations continue to suffer, Russia is deeply attuned to Israel’s interests in Syria and as such, some in Damascus have grown upset in the face of Russia’s strong partnership with Syria’s eternal rival that continues to occupy Syrian territory that it first captured in 1967.
Because Russia’s pro-Israel position in Syria has come at the expense of Iran and Hezbollah, both of which Russia is committed to withdrawing from Syria, Iran and Turkey have been automatically drawn together. This is due to the fact that Iran and Turkey’s specific (key word) interests in Syria do not overlap, not least because Iranian advisers (and their Lebanese Hezbollah partners) and Turkish forces operate in different parts of the country.
As such, while Turkey and Iran are becoming closer to one another over the issue of a united front against US sanctions and as Iran begins to take a more realistic approach to the PKK, Turkey and Iran appear to be on the verge of closer cooperation that will likely witness both sides taking pragmatic steps to de-escalate the situation in Syria at a time when both the US and Russia are taken a broader/global view of the conflict whilst Iran and Turkey continue to take a narrower and more regionally based view of the conflict.