ANKARA-TEHRAN, 28 July (IPS) Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrived in Tehran Tuesday evening for a two day official visit, during which he would discuss with the Iranians about several topics, including gas sales, a controversial dispute over an airport contract, enhancing cooperation and operations against Kurdish rebels, Iran's foreign ministry said Sunday.
“The officials are scheduled to sign several economic, cultural cooperation agreements on expanding Iran-Ankara relations. The volume of Iran-Ankara trade exchanges reached 2.4 billion dollars in 2003 and the sides are going to increase this amount to 10 billion dollars”, the official Iranian news agency IRNA said.
The Imam Khomeini International Airport (IKIA), Iran's gas exports to Turkey, fighting Kurdish rebels and the situation in both Iraq and Palestine are of interest to both sides and will be discussed, diplomatic sources told Iran Press Service.
“Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is scheduled to leave for Tehran this evening for a visit that will give the chance to the leadership of the two countries to test how much Turkey and Iran can extend their cooperation as neighbours and translate that cooperation into a common stance on a number of regional issues, most notably on the future of Iraq”, commented the English-language Turkish Daily News.
“But rapprochement with Iran has its limits”, the paper cautioned.
This visit coincides with a time when the US has stepped up its pressure on Iran
The Revolutionary Guards shut down the new airport on 8 May 2004 almost immediately it had been officially inaugurated, invoking security problems and nation’s pride, as all services, including baggage handling and passengers services like running restaurants and shops was awarded to the Turkish-Austrian Tepe-Akfen-Vie (TAV) consortium that had partially participated in the construction of the 300 millions US Dollars airport.
At first, the Guards, that like all other Iranian armies are under the supreme commandment of Ayatollah Ali Khameneh'i, the leader of the Islamic Republic did not explain the reason for the abrupt and unprecedented operation, the first in the 25 years life of the Iranian present regime, but latter they argued that the order to shut down the new airport had come from the Supreme Council on National Security because the TAV also had business dealings with Israel.
Asked about the allegations, Mr. Abdollah Ramezanzadeh, the Government’s official spokesman said on Tuesday 27 July 2004, “it is the duty of the intelligence Ministry to find out about the possible deals between the TAV with Israel and so far the Ministry had not confirmed that the consortium had ties with the Zionists or they are spies”.
On the security issue, observers from both sides confirmed that Tehran and Ankara, as well as Damascus, are cooperating more closely in fighting rebels from the former Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), now known as Kongra-Gel. Earlier this month Iranian troops killed several Kongra-Gel fighters in clashes close to the Iraqi border.
Turkey and Iran intensified cooperation on security matters after a chilly period during which the two sides accused each other of sheltering their respective dissidents.
"The two countries will try to explore if relations can acquire a strategic dimension," said regional analyst Husnu Mahalli, who said specific issues concerning relations would be resolved almost automatically if the Erdogan and Mohammad Khatami administrations found common ground similar to the one discovered between Ankara and Damascus during Assad's January visit.
Turkey and Iran intensified cooperation on security matters after a chilly period
This visit coincides with a time when the US has stepped up its pressure on Iran and discussions are taking place on how the West should treat Tehran. Erdogan’s visit can also be considered a new indication of Turkish diplomacy opening up to neighbouring countries, particularly Syria and Iran, as a result of the new conditions stemming from the war in Iraq.
“When the situation in Iraq necessitates it, Ankara might hold common consultations with Tehran and Damascus. However, talk of an alliance isn’t appropriate. Incidents in Iraq have a great impact on Turkey’s rapprochement with Iran and Syria. Today the three countries are in similar situations in terms of their role in Iraq’s future and the Kurdish issue. Tehran and Damascus, just like Ankara, want Iraq’s territorial integrity maintained and an end to the occupation and don’t favour the establishment of a Kurdish state”, commented the influential daily Milliyet.
Even if on a bilateral basis, these three countries are continuing their Iraq policies in sync, which is important internationally. This is a factor, which might make Washington think twice. In addition, this common stance might have a deterring influence, the paper added.
The recent measures taken by the Turkish government against Israel reducing the scope of military, security, intelligence and trade cooperation with the Jewish state has brought the twos sides closer.
“Turkey has recently warned Israel about two issues: ending “state terrorism” against the Palestinians, and its activities in northern Iraq. The Sharon government seems determined to continue acting unilaterally on the former, turning a deaf ear to widespread international criticism. But the latter issue is much more serious for Turkey, Mr. Mustafa Karaalioglu wrote in Yeni Safak.
During his visit, Erdogan would also push for importing natural gas from Iran but at a much-reduced price, on the pretext of poor quality and other problems that the Iranians have rejected, but complied so far, as Ankara had in the past halted twice the import of gas from Iran to lower the price. ENDS TURKEY IRAN 28704