Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's planned visit to Ankara on June 9 will be critical not only for Turkish-Iranian relations but also for other countries in the region when Iran's struggle for dialogue with the international system, the civil war in Syria and tensions between Irbil and Baghdad are considered.
The visit is also regarded as important for the reform of broken relations with the Syrian crisis. It is stated that the two countries will negotiate on their common interests rather than conflicts. After the sanctions on Tehran are diminished, an improvement in economic relations between the two is expected.
As part of this, some billion-dollar economic agreements will be tabled. At the separate press meetings Rouhani is to hold with President Abdullah Gül and Prime Minister Recep Tayip Erdogan, both sides will give positive messages for the two countries' relations.
With those messages, the relations will be placed in a controlled betterment phase. However, this is only the visible side of the coin.
On the other side, there are Iran's chronic decisions which harm Turkey's interests in three fields. Tehran's approach to the Kurdish resolution process, its stance against the export of Kurdish oil to the world market via Turkey, and the relationship it has with Syria's Democratic Union Party (PYD) all pose a risk to Turkish-Iranian relations.
The resolution process with the Kurds is the most delicate issue in Turkey. Ankara is not using any mediator to force the PKK to lay down its arms; it draws up the framework of the process and performs the negotiations itself. This closes the resolution process to external effects. Ankara is pacifying the PKK and terror, which are sometimes manipulated to control Ankara's policies by those who view Turkey as an opponent.
No country that wants to be active in the region would want Turkey to carry out the resolution process on its own. Rather, they want to intervene in some way and control the process according to their own interests when they can. Iran also has such a pragmatist perspective. Policy makers in Iran believe that the issue is regional and the resolution process must go on with the participation of other actors in the region. This approach contradicts Ankara's actions as it tried to resolve the problem on its own with domestic methods.
Another issue related to this is the Kurdish oil that has been opened to the world through Turkey. Iran secretly reacts against the 50-year-old agreement between Turkey and the Northern Iraq Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), which will enable Kurdish oil to be transferred to international markets through Turkey. The reason for Iran's reaction is that the close relations between Ankara and Irbil are causing a split in the Baghdad-Irbil line and damaging the balance in Iraq that favors Iran.
Iran's strategic choices ignore the KRG in energy distribution. While Tehran defends Baghdad's arguments, Ankara respects Irbil's constitutional rights and develops its policies on the basis of mutual winning. Iran's old vision of the region that excludes Kurds poses a risk to the normalization and stability of the region.
Although the most crucial issue that overshadows the Turkish-Iranian relationship is Iran's strict pro-Assad policy on Syria, the countries do not want Syria to monopolize relations. They already gave up their attempts to persuade each other on the matter. Rouhani's visit is meaningful in this regard; however, there is another subject about Syria that Ankara cannot ignore. It is commonly believed that Tehran has cooperated with the Democratic Union Party (PYD) in northern Syria. Iran supports the PYD since it remains distant from both the Syrian opposition and the KRG.
Some suggest that Iran meets a considerable amount of the PYD's weapons needs. Iran's perception of the PYD interests not only Turkey, but also the future of Northern Iraq and Syria.