The Iran Project

What’s behind the Turkey-Iran tango?

Zarif & Cavusoglu

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif’s surprise Aug. 12 visit to Turkey may always be remembered in Ankara, as well as in Tehran, for having opened a new chapter in regional cooperation between the two neighbors. The visit was the first by an Iranian official since the failed July 15 coup to overthrow Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. As such, it was part of Tehran’s show of solidarity that began during the coup attempt, with phone calls from Zarif, Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, and Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) external operations wing, the Quds Force.

“Zarif went to Ankara to discuss bilateral relations and Syria,” a senior Iranian official told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, without providing specifics. To get an idea of what transpired in Zarif’s three-hour meeting with Erdogan and his talks with Prime Minister Binali Yildirim and Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, Al-Monitor had to dig deeper, in several places.

“It’s an overstatement to say that Iran and Turkey have agreed on what to do on Syria,” an Iranian diplomatic source told Al-Monitor. “The good thing is that now there is solid ground to stand on, and goodwill, and it’s obvious that Turkey showed readiness to go further in discussing serious options to draft, along with Iran and Russia, a serious exit strategy that would put an end to the bloodshed in Syria.”

As for Tehran, it is clear that there is no chance of a solution in Syria without a serious regional partner, and that partner has to be either Turkey or Saudi Arabia. Given that Tehran’s relations with Riyadh grow worse by the day — amid a war of words, the conflicts in Yemen and Syria plus tensions over Bahrain and Lebanon — a Saudi-Iranian rapprochement is a dream unlikely to come true anytime in the near future.

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