Zarif & Erdogan

The future outlook for Iran-Turkey relations

Iran and Turkey have opened a new chapter in their bilateral relations as a result of a number of developments, which include: 1. the failed coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016, 2. ongoing developments in Syria, and 3. recent visits by Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani to the Republic of Azerbaijan and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to Turkey. The turning point in the new chapter of bilateral relations was the Islamic Republic’s laudable step taken immediately following the botched coup in Turkey to support the democratic government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. This measure practically made way for Tehran to boost its political and economic relations with the government in Ankara on a more acceptable basis. In my opinion, Iran’s behavior also revealed the depth of relations between the two neighboring countries with regard to their practical positions. Now, in view of the above three factors, the future outlook for relations between Iran and Turkey can be explained as follows.

Updating his Twitter account on July 15, Iran’s foreign minister spoke about the new era of relations between Iran and Turkey. In fact, after Russia, Iran was the main winner of developments, which followed the botched coup in Turkey. Before traveling to Turkey, Zarif put a phone call to Sergei Lavrov, Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation, in which the two ministers discussed the outcome of a previous meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart, Erdogan. In fact, the failed coup in Turkey in addition to Iran’s measure in condemning the coup attempt have created some sort of mental relationship and common understanding of relations between the two countries. This is why for the first time in past years Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu clearly talked about existence of common mental grounds between the two countries with regard to the situation in Syria.

In fact, the failed coup served as a catalyst to elevate topics of talks between the two countries from one level to a higher one. On the other hand, the failed coup has served to tone down previously negative attitudes, which had done basic harm to relations between Tehran and Ankara. In my opinion, the most important outcome of the failed coup for the two countries’ relations has been its impact on the mental and psychological aspect of political relations between them, which will be certainly upgraded to a very positive and constructive level following Iran’s measure to condemn the coup attempt. The previous negative level of mental relationship was the biggest problem facing both countries before the failed coup of July 15.

In fact, that negative mentality had led to rise of negative competitive interaction in relations between Tehran and Ankara, which was mostly due to geopolitical rivalry between the two countries in Iraq and Syria. However, recent evidence attests to formation of some sort of positive competitive interaction under present circumstances in bilateral relations. The effort made by both countries to understand each other’s redlines and identify security and political priorities will delineate the outlook of Iran’s relations with Turkey.

Recent improvement of relations between Iran and Turkey can be also considered within framework of the recent trilateral meeting among Iran, Azerbaijan and Russia. Before this meeting and prior to the visit to Ankara by Iran’s foreign minister and after a visit to the Republic of Azerbaijan by Iran’s President Rouhani, good grounds had been provided for more cooperation in such fields as transportation; gas, electricity and energy; water, environment, and construction of the North-South Corridor. As an extension of trilateral talks among the three heads of state, Iran’s foreign minister met and conferred with his Turkish counterpart, Çavuşoğlu, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, and President Erdogan. It was also decided that the two countries’ experts would exchange views through meetings of joint transportation and economic commissions. In fact, negotiations in Baku and Ankara were complementary.

Iran and Turkey are trying not to limit this latest opportunity for improvement of relations to its political dimension, but expand it into an economic, especially energy, dimension as well. This issue was one of the most important topics of discussions between Zarif and high-ranking Turkish officials in Ankara. In fact, recent developments, including Iran’s position on the failed coup in Turkey; the trilateral summit among Iran, the Republic of Azerbaijan and Russia; Zarif’s visit to Turkey; future exchanges between Iranian and Turkish diplomatic delegations; and Erdogan’s recent approach to Iran all attest to the fact that there is a bright outlook for expansion of tactical and pragmatic relations between Iran and Turkey. The combination of strategic and pragmatic approaches is a new concept, which has come into play following emergence of common mental grounds between the two countries’ diplomatic apparatuses.


This article was written by Reza Solat for Iran Review on Aug 17, 2016. Reza Solat is Ph.D. in International Relations and Expert on Turkey Issues.