TEHRAN-ANKARA, 31 (IPS) Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan came back from his official two-days visit to Tehran on Thursday evening empty hand except for a vague promise by the Iranian side to increase fight against the Turkish separatist group Kongra-Gel, formerly know as the Workers Party of (Turish) Kurdistan.
In his talks with senor Iranian officials, including the powerless President Mohammad Khatami and the powerful Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Erdogan had pressed his Iranian counterparts to put Turkish Kurd rebels on its list of terrorist groups.
"Both Iran and Turkey have decided to brand the PKK and the Iraqi-based Mojaheedin Khalq Organisation -- Iran's main armed opposition group now disarmed by the Americans-- as terrorist groups, and what was signed today stated that even if they continue to operate under different names, they will continue to be dealt with as terrorist groups", Iran's Deputy Interior Minister for Security Affairs, Ali Asghar Ahmadi, told AFP.
Invoking “security concerns”, the Iranians said that both the Tepe-Akfen-Vie and Turkcell had ties with “Zionist (Israeli) companies.
But the pro-conservatives Fars news agency quoted the same official as having warned that if the two sides fails to reach accord on the price of gas, the security agreements would not be signed either.
However, the official news agency IRNA reported that documents on the security issue had been signed in the presence of Mr. Erdogan and the Iranian first vice president.
The visit, aimed at boosting political and trade cooperation between the two powerful, non Arab Muslim neighbours was due to culminate with the signing of three key financial agreements and one on security cooperation later in the evening before Erdogan's departure.
“But after a scheduled signing ceremony covering several business deals was cancelled, officials from both sides put a brave face on what was evidently a disappointing conclusion to a landmark two-day visit by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan”, the French news agency AFP commented on the outcome of the trip.
The agency was referring to Erdogan’s failure to resolve disputes over the Imam Khomeini International Airport (IKIA), awarding Turkcell, --Turkey's biggest mobile phone operator -- to set up Iran's first private mobile telephone network and get cheaper price for the natural gas Turkey imports from Iran.
On the first two issues, the Iranian side invoked “security concerns”, claiming that both the Tepe-Akfen-Vie (TAV), an Austrian-Turkish consortium that had secured contracts for the most of the services at the IKIA, including baggage, coffee shops, restaurants and shops as well as Turkcell had also ties with “Zionist (Israeli) companies.
It was because of these questions that the Revolutionary Guards shut down the new airport on 8 May 2004 hours after it had been officially inaugurated and one flight landed.
If we can not cooperate with our neighbours, then how can we enter international markets?
While the conservatives say they are against the contracts because of lack of proper studies and consideration for national security, the defeated reformists insist that the hard liners blocked the deals in order to humiliate further President Mohammad Khatami and adds that the Intelligence Ministry has found no evidence corroborating TAV and Turkcell’s connections with Israel, Iran’s arch foe enemy.
“If we can not cooperate with our neighbours, then how can we enter international markets’, one Iranian economist told Iran Press Service, adding that the failure of trade agreements with Turkey would badly harm Iran’s interests?
Turkey could invest up to three billion dollars in the project, which would rank among the largest foreign investments since Iran's Islamic revolution 25 years ago.
According to official figures, trade between the two countries has increased dramatically in recent years, and was valued at 2.4 billion dollars (2.0 billion euros) in 2003, a 90 percent increase on the previous year.
Iran says the figure could surge to 10 billion dollars in the coming years.
But Mr. Mohammad Khoshchehreh, deputy Chairman of Economic Committee of the conservative’s controlled Majles criticised the government that by agreeing to contracts to TAV and Turkcell before referring to the Parliament, it had placed the cart before the cows.
To echo him, conservative’s controlled newspapers accused Turkey to press for cheap gas prices “Beyond any logic”.
Turkey has halted imports, complaining of poor quality and asking Iran to reduce the price. Turkish and Iranian energy officials failed to ink a formal deal on the price of Iranian natural-gas supplies, despite nearly eight hours of negotiations.
Officials close to the talks said the two sides had appointed Turkish Energy Minister Hilmi Guler and Iran's Oil Minister Bizhan Namdar Zanganeh to work on ironing out the hitches concerning a natural gas supply deal signed in 1996.
“Khatami should have known that decisions on such important deals involving the nation’s interests are taken in the Office of the Leader and must also be ratified by the Majles. But it seems that the President had been on the illusion that these matters are for the Executive”, observed a Tehran-based journalist.
However, the visit was not all negative, as the two sides had almost identical views on the situation in Iraq and Palestine.
Erdogan, who is also the leader of the moderate Islam-based Justice and Development Party, pleased the Iranians when he downgraded Turkey’s military, intelligence and security cooperation with the Jewish State in protest to the “iron fist” policy of the hard line Prime Minister Ariel Sharon against the Palestinians.
The two sides confirmed their support for the Iraqi interim government of Mr. Iyad Alawi and the maintaining of Iraq’s present international borders.
“The United States, which considers Iran a rogue state, is reportedly unhappy with Ankara's efforts to forge cooperation with Tehran. Turkish media quoted a U.S. official as reminding Ankara that business deals with Iran worth more than $20 million would draw U.S. sanctions”, wrote the English-language Turkish Daily News.
"We have to think about the interests of our country. This is a responsibility put upon our shoulders by our 70 million people. We can't avoid that and every step that we take is for the well being of our nation. They are not meant to create trouble for any country", Erdogan said, when asked of the reported U.S. reaction.
Erdogan on the way home said his government was keeping its earlier promise to strengthen economic, political and commercial ties with its neighbouring countries.
In a landmark move, Ankara had normalised its relations with Syria.
"We believe these steps must be taken in order to support world peace. In addition, Turkey should take such steps as many of the world's countries are already so engaged", Erdogan said.
During his visit, Erdogan, accompanied by a political and economic delegation including some 130 businessmen, had also met with Iranian ministers of Oil, Defence and Foreign Affairs as well as Mr. Qolamali Haddad Adel, the Majles Speaker. ENDS TURKEY IRAN 31704