Turkey's Presidency of Religious Affairs (DİB) head Professor Mehmet Görmez, will be traveling to Iran on Sunday and then to Saudi Arabia on Jan. 2 to discuss the deepening rift between the Sunni and Shiite Muslims.
In Iran, Görmez and an accompanying delegation will attend a "Unity in Islam Conference" organized by an Iranian association that aims to mend the fences between the Muslim sects and other Islamic groups.
Görmez, who will also be holding contacts with Iranian officials as the Chairman of the Permanent Contact Group of the Islamic Scholars Peace, Moderation and Common Sense Initiative, will be received by Iranian supreme religious leader Ayatollah Khamenei. The permanent contact group was established by the Islamic scholars including those from Iran who met in Istanbul in July 2014 as a response to the terrorist actions of the DAESH, which emerged as a serious threat to Islam by using religion as a tool to carry out terrorist actions.
Görmez is also expected to meet other leading Iranian officials on various religious issues that include the problems faced during the Hajj season.
The visit comes at a time when relations between Turkey and Iran are going through a cool phase over Iran's involvement in Iraq, Syria and Yemen and in several Gulf Arab countries where Shiite groups backed by Iran are struggling against the Sunnis.
Iran supports the Assad regime in Syria, while Turkey backs the opposition Syrian forces. Iran has sent its militia and its National Guard commanders to help the Assad forces in the ongoing civil war much to the anger of Ankara. Iranian backed Hezbollah of Lebanon is also actively helping to keep the Assad regime in power.
The fact that Iran has sided with Russia over the downing of a Russian plane that violated Turkish airspace recently has further chilled relations between Ankara and Tehran.
Ankara also sees Iran behind the Baghdad central government opposition to the presence of Turkish troops near Mosul who were training Iraqi and Kurdish Peshmerga forces to counter the so-called DAESH menace that has invaded about one-third of Iraq and an equal chunk of Syria.
Görmez and his delegation were invited to the Tehran meeting last month but decided to attend the event last week after Görmez consulted with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu. Ankara believes that the contact with Tehran should be maintained at a certain level at this point.
After his three-day trip to Tehran, Görmez will return home and then fly off to Saudi Arabia on Jan. 2 for another three-day visit to the Kingdom, which is a close Sunni ally of Turkey.
Besides discussing religious issues and a stampede incident during the Hajj season that left thousands dead, Görmez is expected to brief the Saudi leaders about his contacts in Tehran and his meeting with Khamenei.
Turkey and Saudi Arabia see eye to eye on the need to remove Assad from the scene in Syria if there is to be a permanent solution to the Syrian crisis and are seriously concerned with Iran's moves in the Middle East using the Shiites in the region to expand Tehran's regional influence.
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