Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (L) and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu shake hands following a joint press conference at the Foreign Ministry in Ankara on August 12, 2016
Iranian-Turkish relations have historically been very important, and other countries have also benefited and incurred loss from these relations. Now, we see that any closeness or distance in Iranian-Turkish relations can affect Iranian relations with other countries as well. At the same time, we witness three kinds of dialogue in relations between Iran and Turkey: opposition dialogue, competition-cooperation dialogue and interaction dialogue. In the opposition dialogue, trans-regional powers are active, and they highly invest in the process of opposition being intensified between Iran and Turkey. Saudi Arabia, Israel and America are the powers clearly present in this dialogue, and their interests lie in the fact that Iran- Turkey relations are faced with a challenge - these powers highly invest in achieving this end. In relations between Iran and Turkey, this dialogue, both historically and in terms of mentality, has the potential to grow, so we should be quite careful.
Competition-cooperation dialogue is the dominant dialogue in relations between Iran and Turkey. The problem with this dialogue is that in terms of the relations between the two countries, no strong bonds are formed between them. In other words, Iran handles relations traditionally, and is careful not to be damaged by the other side, and it takes advantage of this relationship as far as possible. That is why so much time is spent, but no serious work is done. Interaction dialogue is a dialogue that Iran has experienced since 1996 under the late Necmettin Erbakan. The Islamic Republic of Iran and Turkey could move together on this path, and the gas export contract, and important agreements have been formed under this dialogue. This dialogue has continued during the rule of the AK Party as well, and it can still be seen.
Of course, there is a possibility that relations between the two countries can travel from the path of a dialogue to another dialogue, and it is possible that we travel from interaction to competition or from competition to opposition. Rational and wise management of relations between the two countries is a management based on what the two peoples want, and on the fact that the relations should be guided to the path of interaction. I do not believe in “zero problems with neighbors”, but I believe in wisely resolving the problems between the two countries. However, there are areas where we can sit and talk, and deal with the problems wisely.
In the past, a long-term targeting was considered for relations between the two countries that helped their relations as a driving engine which can be seen in the economic field - the capacity of 30 billion dollars for trade between the two sides. Even the capacity to exchange $15 billion is provided, and despite the fact that in 2012 the volume of trade between the two countries reached a record of $23 billion, the remaining $15 billion is still not actualized, and the necessary capacity is not created as well. The necessity of working in areas such as energy, new contracts for oil, gas, pipelines and export of electricity, as well as in the heavy industry, the implementation of joint projects, the development of transit; specially the development of borders, the mutual development of tourism as well as cooperation in the sectors of defense and military industries can help us reach the desired target of $30 billion.
Despite the fact that during the last two years, there have been tensions in the political relations between the two countries –I believe these tensions are imposed upon, and they have entered the bilateral relations more from the surrounding area–, but fortunately we see that the economic relations between the two countries enjoy a relative stability. Of course, the numbers fluctuate, and the reason is that, for example, oil and gas play a strong role in their relations, and the fluctuating price of these two items reduces the Iranian export volume. Prices may also vary in some areas that energy exports are based on the energy consumption, but generally we witness an order in the relations between the two countries, and this shows that the economic relations between Iran and Turkey are based on foundations that we believe are complementary, and we believe that this issue contributed to keep the friendship and strengthen ties between the two countries within the framework of the neighborhood. I believe if the current cooperation between Iran and Turkey in the field of oil and gas did not exist, today the relations between the two countries would not be in their current situation, so we should expand these kinds of cooperation.
© Iranian Diplomacy
Alireza Bigdeli, a former Iran's ambassador to Turkey, is the senior fellow at IRAS.
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