A new era in Turkish-Iranian relations

Published 20.04.2016 00:36

The 13th Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) summit held in Istanbul last week ended with a final declaration that has brought forward the prospect of a new and realistic solidarity among Islamic countries. The OIC, which represented little more than a moral union in the past, has now agreed on concrete and practicable steps that represent a serious hope for the relations of these countries moving into the future. For the first time, OIC members specifically discussed issues such as Islamic countries' need for non-interest-based cooperation models, as Islam stipulates, based on profit-loss participation investments. Also, the necessity of creating monetary and trade unions in a variety of commercial and financial fields was thoroughly addressed.

As leader of the host country, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's chairmanship came to the fore as a determinative factor during the summit. In the final declaration, OIC members condemned Iran for interfering in the internal affairs of Islamic countries in the Middle East and supporting terrorist organizations, such as Hezbollah, that instigate armed conflicts in the region. Indeed, the harshness of this declaration was a development Iran anticipated. All parties, especially Iran, are now aware that a new beginning is needed. Iran's relations with the West require pursuing a new kind of diplomacy from now on. Certainly, this goes for its relations with the Islamic world and Turkey as well. This requirement was more clearly seen when Iranian President Hassan Rouhani went to Ankara to hold an official meeting with Erdoğan following the summit.

Delivering statements after the third Turkey-Iran High-Level Cooperation Council meeting in Ankara, Rouhani said that one of the most important issues was that the banking sectors of both countries must be engaged in more active cooperation. Stressing that cooperation between the Istanbul and Tehran stock exchanges must be cemented further, Rouhani noted that Turkish and Iranian banks have set up some channels to carry out mutual projects. He pointed to new areas of cooperation and made important statements about energy and energy security. At the moment, it is a question of time for Turkey to see whether this positive communication will be borne out with concrete steps. In the past, Turkey embarked on many initiatives including efforts toward the removal of embargoes for the relief and welfare of Iranian people. Iran remained unresponsive to these steps, which were taken under the leadership of Erdoğan, and most of the time Turkey felt hard done by. However, Iran's opportunist attitudes, which has upset neighboring nations, harmed itself more than it harmed Turkey and caused Iran to reach an agreement with the West under more adverse conditions and at a later time.

Certainly, as the OIC Istanbul summit revealed, these developments point to a new era in which Iran must turn a new page in its relations with Islamic countries including Turkey, just as it does with the West, and revise its attitude and diplomacy toward Syria and all other armed conflict zones in the Middle East. In the contrary case, its deal with the West will lead to adverse economic and political consequences for Iran itself. Iran must become one of the major partners of the Southern Gas Corridor (SGC) in the course of time. The 2014 Ukraine crisis highlighted the EU's quest for energy security, as a result of which the European Commission (EC) called for intensified work on the SGC and for the establishment of a new strategic energy partnership with Turkey. Indeed, this call was a step toward the inclusion of countries such as Azerbaijan, Turkey, Iran, Turkmenistan and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in this energy axis.

Meanwhile, Turkey and Israel have made great progress in mending bilateral relations in recent history. This major development means the inclusion of Levantine energy resources in the SGC, which has become a strategic energy axis for Turkey and the EU. While it is only a capacity problem for the countries included in the project, Iran's inclusion in the SGC is important for its own interests, as all energy balances in the region are rapidly changing.

The ongoing debates and state of disagreement in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) indicate that the energy game in the region will not be able to continue as before, as countries in the region are no longer acting in unison under the umbrella of OPEC. Therefore, Iran must be more considerate of Turkey and abandon previous policies which merely positioned itself in the center. This is a requirement not only for energy policies but also for the creation of a new trade regime as the middle and southern corridors, which are the main axes of the New Silk Road, reach Europe through Iran and Turkey. Rouhani's recent statements in Ankara pointed to all these dynamics - which must be underlined as an important sign of change and hope.

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