The arrival of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to the Islamic summit last week, his conciliatory speech at the event and then his visit to Ankara on Saturday all point to warmer ties between Turkey and Iran, which is good news for regional peace and security and for Islam where the two countries can put their weight behind halting the Sunni-Shiite rift.
Turkey has always supported Iran in the worst of times when the country was suffering serious hardships due to the American-led sanctions because of Iran's nuclear program. Turkey did not only help Iran ease the hardships of those sanctions but it also mediated talks between Iran and the world powers that eventually led to the signing of a nuclear deal between Tehran and the West.
However, after the signing of the deal, Iran's actions gave the impression that Iran had turned its back on Turkey and was now depending on its new found friendship with the United States.
However, the Iranians realized that Turkey is a reality of the region just like Saudi Arabia and thus they have to live with these countries. Besides Iran realized that it has to be extremely guarded in its relations with the U.S. and that Washington's friendship is not a foregone conclusion and that it is not worth losing Ankara.
Turkey still does not approve of Iranian designs in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and the Gulf countries but also sees the only way to end the great threat against Islam is to end the sectarian rift in the Muslim world and this cannot be done without the active participation of Iran.
So Turkey first sent it's chief of the Presidency of Religious Affairs (DİB) Professor Mehmet Görmez to Tehran to attend an Islamic meeting on unity and received good signals from the Iranians including Ayatollah Khamenei. Then relations started rolling on the right course and there were exchanges of top visits between the two countries, which peaked with the visit of President Rouhani to Turkey.
President Rouhani like his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdoğan declared last week that he is first a Muslim then a member of a sect. Turkey and Iran, like Saudi Arabia, have a key role to play in bringing peace and ending sectarian conflicts in the region.
The joint fight against sectarianism is of great importance as Islam faces assault after assault from those who are trying their best to sow the seeds of sedition between Sunnis and Shiites.
The fact that President Erdoğan hosted King Selman in Ankara just before the summit and then welcomed the Iranian leader just after the event is symbolic of the role Turkey can play as a bridge and hence a mediator in the region. In fact, Turkey has mediated easing Saudi bans on Iranian pilgrims for the upcoming Hajj season, which has been appreciated by Tehran, speaks for itself.
Turkey and Iran have much to gain from friendly relations and much to lose due to rifts. However, the Iranians have to appreciate the realities of the region and the fact that Turkey's warm relations with Saudi Arabia are not a handicap for them but an asset. They also have to agree that the efforts of Ankara to normalize ties with Israel is not a move against Iran but a vital step to help ease the Israeli sanctions against the Palestinians.
Iran and Turkey have to step up their efforts to deepen economic ties, which is only natural for as neighbors, they have a duty to cooperate to fight terrorism of all kinds and struggle against divergent religious ideologies that are trying to bring Islam into disrepute. Let us hope the current positive trend in Turkish-Iranian relations leads to all this.