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Spotlight: Turkey, Iran seek to bring ties back on track amid splits on regional issues
BY 2020-06-17 10:34:58

ISTANBUL, June 16 (Xinhua) -- Turkey and Iran held positive talks during a two-day visit by Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif to Turkey this week, trying to bring back on track the bilateral ties eroded by their differences over regional issues, experts said.

"Relations between Tehran and Ankara are close in various fields but require further consultations," Zarif was quoted by media outlets as saying during his visit on Sunday and Monday.

The Iranian top diplomat's trip coincided with a last-minute cancellation of a visit by two top Russian officials to the Turkish city to focus on the Libyan crisis, where Ankara and Moscow back opposing parties.

Iran and Turkey also support opposing parties in Syria and Iraq. Out of security concerns, Turkey's foreign policy has been dominated by the developments in these two countries in recent years.

After its recent Spring Shield Operation in Syria's northern province of Idlib and the ongoing military incursions in northern Iraq, Turkey is increasingly converging with its NATO ally the United States while its common understanding with Iran is eroded, observers argued.

"The main issue of contention discussed during Zarif's visit was the security issue stemming from Iran's proxy attacks in Idlib. Their actions have caused a tension in bilateral relations," said Sabir Askeroglu, an expert from the Center for Iranian Studies.

"Turkey has seriously warned Iran regarding its proxies in Syria, and Zarif came to Turkey to prevent a further deterioration in ties and to express his administration's good will in this matter," Askeroglu told Xinhua.

While Iran has always refused to admit its involvement in the battles in Idlib, the last rebel stronghold that the Russian-backed Syrian forces try to retake, several Iranian-backed groups such as the Lebanese Hezbollah are fighting in Syria.

"Ankara has clearly warned Tehran about its involvement in Idlib, which would hamper Turkish military operations in northern Syria, and also about its reported support to Kurdish rebels of PKK (outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party) operating in northern Iraq," Askeroglu noted.

Iran's actions in Syria and Iraq would determine if its relations with Turkey will progress in a better direction or not, the expert argued.

The trade between Turkey and Iran is an important factor pushing the old neighbors together, especially after the COVID-19 outbreak which has hit countries across the world.

While Iran is an oil-producing country, it is subjected to U.S sanctions, with many sectors of its economy, particularly the oil industry, seriously impacted.

In this context, Turkey offers a lifeline to Iran regarding trade as Ankara opposes Washington's unilateral sanctions against its neighbor.

"While the whole world is struggling against the (COVID-19) pandemic, the U.S., instead of showing solidarity with the world, is using the outbreak ... as an opportunity to seek to change the regime in Iran," commented Turkish political analyst Nedim Sener in the Hurriyet daily.

Turkey has always refused to call for a "regime change" in Tehran, expressing support to the elected government in Iran and its representatives.

Turkey and Iran said, after a meeting between Zarif and his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu, that they are working toward reopening their borders for travellers and plan to restart mutual flights on Aug. 1, after a months-long hiatus over the coronavirus pandemic.

For his part, Zarif expressed appreciation for Turkey's support while the U.S. is tightening sanctions on Iran hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The support given by Turkey to Iran, under U.S sanctions, during the pandemic is something to be noted and valued," Mustafa Caner, a researcher from Ankara-based think tank SETA, said in a recent report.

"U.S. sanctions have deteriorated Iran's economy and the coronavirus outbreak has made things even worse," he said.

Caner noted that both Iran and Turkey have made efforts to ensure that their relations will continue in the post-pandemic era. 

(Editor:Grace) (From:xinhua)
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