Erdoğan’s visit to Iran will focus on economic ties amid Yemeni, Syrian crises

Tensions have risen between Turkey and Iran following criticism from President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Iran’s involvement in the Middle East before the official visit he will pay to the Iranian capital Tehran in April. On his way to Slovenia, emphasizing that the one who will decide on the visit is Turkey, Erdoğan said: “There are two different voices about us from Iran. I do not know who they are, but we will not address ourselves to those people. They are not the ones who will decide on our visit. Indeed, we will. We are protecting our schedule and we are following Yemen. 

The developments are important and there might be steps for reaching any kind of decision.”

During an interview with France 24 on March 26, Erdoğan said: “Iran’s aim is to increase its influence in Iraq. The country is trying to chase ISIS [the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham] from the region only to take its place.”

He continued: “Iran has to change its view. It has to withdraw any forces, whatever it has in Yemen as well as Syria and Iraq and respect their territorial integrity.”

Later on, Iran’s Foreign Affairs Minister Mohamed Javad Zarif rebuffed Erdoğan’s remarks and Mansour Haghighatpour, the deputy chair of the parliamentary committee on national security and foreign policy, spoke to the Iranian-based Tasnim news agency, saying that the visit should be canceled. Later, the Foreign Ministry of Iran summoned the Turkish charge d’affaires in Tehran, Barış Saygın, and gave him a diplomatic note asking for a clear and convincing explanation from Ankara to clarify the president’s criticism of Iran, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Merziye Afham said on Monday.

Accordingly, Erdoğan’s visit is still a matter of question and debate. Speaking to Daily Sabah about it, experts pointed to some likely topics to be addressed by Erdoğan and Iranian leaders and possible consequences if the visit takes place.

Indicating that he is not sure whether Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will accept the meeting with Erdoğan after his latest statements on Iran, Rohollah Faghihi, an Iranian journalist working at Entekhab news said: “As you know, Syria and Yemen are two important issues for Iran, that’s why I don’t assume Iran would give a guarantee to Erdoğan on both issues. Erdoğan and Iran both are aware of their differences; they may just discuss these issues to state their positions not to change each other’s stances.”

“In my view, Erdoğan has joined the Saudi Arabia bloc to counter Iran, as Reuters reported three months ago, which is happening now, and may also carry a message for Iran from their Sunni bloc.” Faghihi said.

Underlining the timing of the visit, Eyüp Ersoy from the Department of International Relations of Bilkent University, stressed that bilateral economic relations will take priority on the agenda of discussions while substantive discussions on regional issues are not expected. “First, in high-level bilateral visits since the onset of the Arab Spring, these two states have refrained from prioritizing issues over which their policy preferences diverge lest their incompatible, event conflicting, policies impair mutually beneficial aspects of their relations,” Ersoy said, and added: “Second, Erdoğan’s visit is going to take place at a time when the Iranian government is to be diplomatically preoccupied with two ongoing developments in its foreign policy, that is, nuclear negotiations with the P5+1 [the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany] and the crisis in Yemen in which Turkey is indirectly and inconsequentially involved.”

Ersoy also said: “Any sort of diplomatic alignment between Turkey and Iran for the time being to find common solutions to crises in the Middle East” has been obstructed with the latest developments between the countries. “Assuming that they display a degree of willingness to align their differing diplomatic attitudes for the settlement of these conflicts through collective action, Turkey and Iran, together, do not have ample capacity to effectively implement any approved common policy. The crises in Syria and Yemen are simply bigger than Turkey and Iran, even together,” he said.

By Daily Sabah