Turkey-Iran Bilateral Relations
President Rouhani’s official visit to Turkey last week has been welcomed by the both the political leaders and the people of Turkey. While this visit harbors numerous future possibilities for both countries, it also reminded the world how Turkey and Iran have an unbreakable bond no matter what the regional situation brings to the table.
Sharing a 454-km long border with Turkey, Iran has always been regarded as an ancient neighbor for the Republic of Turkey. This friendship had not been fatally disrupted by the Syrian civil war, which turned into a sectarian conflict, the Arab Spring, the Ukrainian crisis, violent clashes in Iraq or the sectarian shift in Lebanon due to the Syrian refugee crisis. Even though our allies subjected Iran to strict sanctions, Turkey never cut trade or diplomatic ties with Iran. The ancient friends remained closer than even before. Even though the two countries stood the test of regime change on Anatolian soil in 1923 or the Iranian Revolution in 1979, surely there are factors bringing the two countries closer lately. Being the first official visit since the term of former Iranian President Rafsanjani, President Rouhani’s visit surely means a lot for the relations of both countries. However, it should also not be forgotten that Turkey and Iran made a decision to hold monthly official level meetings since the election of President Rouhani and has been successful in keeping this promise.
Being the only country Iranian citizens can travel to without the requirement of a visa, Turkey is a giant trade partner for Iran. The border trade alone between the two countries increased significantly in the last decade making Iran Turkey’s third largest export partner. Turkey mainly exports agricultural products, automobiles, and machine parts to Iran and Turkish companies also invested in the real estate sector in the Islamic Republic. Economic relations between Turkey and Iran have undergone a major expansion in the last decade. Trade between Turkey and Iran rose from $1 billion in 2000 to $10 billion in 2010 and this number was approximately $20 billion in 2012; the two sides plan to triple the volume of trade to $30 billion in 2014 as President Gul stated. Energy constitutes the most important driving force of the economic relations between the two nations. Iran is the second-largest supplier of natural gas to Turkey, also supplying 40% of Turkey’s crude oil needs. According to Iran’s Trade Promotion Organization, Turkey is the fifth biggest destination for Iran’s non-oil exports. Following the recent nuclear deal trade between the two countries benefited a big push. Turkish Energy Minister Taner Y?ld?z said, “The daily oil purchase from Iran is expected to rise from 105,000 barrels to 140,000 barrels.” Iran also doesn’t deny the fact that the Southern Gas Corridor (SGC) is an opportunity the battered Iranian economy can use: Turkey will be playing a key role in energy route structuring with the Southern Gas Corridor project, which will supply Europe with gas from Azerbaijan, and will also have the capacity to carry extra gas from northern Iraq, Turkmenistan and possibly Iran. With the ongoing Ukrainian crisis, the European nations are seeking to decrease their dependency on Russian gas and Ukraine is thinking of using Turkish pipelines for gas. Iran is also insisting on joining this energy axis along with Turkey.
Turkey’s efforts to facilitate talks between Iran and the Western nations and being strikingly successful in bringing diverse players to the diplomatic table helped to develop more trust on Iranian side. We have seen the fruits of these diplomatic steps in the Geneva talks, in UN Security Council meetings and the talks between the Gulf States and the Islamic Republic of Iran. The Iranian ambition to be the superpower of the Middle East has been a well-known fact for decades. Since 1979 the Islamic Republic of Iran has spent ample time to make its influence felt not only in the Levant, but all the way to the shores of the Mediterranean.
The recent developments in Iranian politics and the policies (or at least the discourse) of President Rouhani show signs of an opening to both Western and the Middle Eastern partners. As a country which has long refrained from sectarian overtones in both foreign and domestic affairs, Turkey can be the partner and the mediator Iran seeks to enhance its regional influence.
With their ancient cultural ties, ancient unchanged borders (since 1639) and ever-increasing political and economic relations, the partnership of these two countries has much to contribute to regional peace, cooperation and stability.