Turkish President Visits Iran To Mend Ties Amid Dispute Over Yemen

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is currently visiting Iran, a visit which comes amid disagreements between Ankara and Tehran over Erdogan’s policies regarding Syria and Yemen.

This is Erdogan’s first visit to Iran for more than four years, and it takes place in a period of unprecedented tension between the two countries as a result of the collision of their interests in the Middle East. This tension peaked last week when Erdogan condemned Iran for its support of the Houthi rebels in Yemen.

On the eve of the controversial visit, 65 members of the Iranian parliament demanded that President Hassan Rouhani warn his Turkish counterpart against voicing similar statements in the future. They demanded that Erdogan officially apologize to the Iranian nation for his remarks, with some officials even demanding that the visit be canceled. The historical enmity between the Turks and the Iranians is long and deep, dating back to the Ottomans and the Safavids, and it still exists in the minds of many decision makers in Ankara and Tehran.

Commentators in the Arab world agree (Arabic link) that the operation in Yemen has put a strain on Iranian-Turkish relations. But despite recent tension between the two countries, analysts emphasize that Iran cannot publicly express hostility towards Turkey for various reasons, headed by the fact that in recent years the Iranian regime received political support from Erdogan’s government for its uranium enrichment program.

In addition, there is also clandestine coordination between Iranian and Turkish security forces, mainly against Iranian opposition activists and Kurdish forces in the Kurdistan region. The two countries do not want the relations between them to deteriorate, so Erdogan’s visit to Tehran can be seen as an attempt to quell the diplomatic friction.

Erdogan’s logistical support for the operation against the Houthis in Yemen can be interpreted as an attempt to repair relations with the Arab countries, which were significantly affected by his support for the Muslim Brotherhood and because of his indifference towards the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) operations in Syria and Iraq. The Brotherhood is considered illegal in several Middle Eastern nations.

It appears that Turkey is trying to maneuver between two conflicting positions. On one hand, it supports the Saudi anti-Iranian position in the conflicts in Yemen, Syria and Iraq. But on the other, it is trying improve its economic relations with Iran. The emerging nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1 nations only intensified the desire of Turkey to improve economic relations with Iran.

[Photo: BBC Türkçe / YouTube ]