In a rendezvous bearing possible diplomatic implications, Hakan Fidan, the Turkish Foreign Minister, had conducted a meeting today with an array of Iranian officials, among whom were the President, Foreign Minister, and Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council of Iran. This marks Fidan’s inaugural visit to Tehran donning the hat of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkey, a narrative which unraveled on the heels of his journeys to Russia and Iraq.
Fidan, with his nearly two decades of credentials in security, intelligence, and diplomacy, has become an indispensable figure in Ankara’s policymaking arena with a significant influence on Turkey’s foreign relations. Nonetheless, Fidan’s ascension to the paramount position of foreign minister of Turkey on June 4 was a subject of controversy, stirring palpable ripples in Turkey, the region and the global theatre. Optimistically, Iran was amongst the earliest countries to extend an olive branch, welcoming Fidan’s appointment with open arms. Iran’s Foreign Minister, Hossein Amirabdollahian enthusiastically congratulated Fidan on his assignment during an evening telecall, subsequent to which Fidan received an invitation to visit Tehran. During this dialog, Amirabdollahian expressed a fervent hope for a tangible enhancement in the degree of close cooperation between Iran and Turkey during Fidan’s tenure. Subsequently, a felicitous reunion took place between Amirabdollahian and Fidan on the sidelines of the Non-Alignment Movement foreign ministers’ meeting in Baku, resulting in Amirabdollahian and Fidan’s convivial handshake seizing the media spotlight.
The last quarter has offered fertile ground for speculations about Fidan’s potential influence on the change or continuity of the foreign policy agendas of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. A number of observers align Fidan’s mindset and execution with the success of Erdogan’s stratagems in the region and globally, while others herald Fidan as the harbinger of reform, enhancement, and actualization of Erdogan’s grandiose visions for the neighboring regions. A key narrative featuring Fidan in the media landscape, particularly in some Iranian, regional, and notably Israeli media outlets, revolves around his inclination toward cooperation Iran.
However, it appears that one dominating message conveyed by the Turkish Foreign Minister’s journey to Iran is that Ankara recognizes Tehran as a critical regional priority. Fidan’s excursion to Tehran could potentially be construed as a fresh catalyst spearheading the evolution of the relationship between Iran and Turkey. The visit underscores the pivotal importance attached by both countries to the establishment and nurturing of cordial relations between Ankara and Tehran, albeit, numerous influential factors might not predominantly precipitate convergence.
Issues of discussion: opportunities, challenges and conflicts
A focus of the deliberations during Fidan’s sojourn in Tehran, as outlined in a statement by the Turkish Foreign Ministry, was the joint regional issues within West Asia and the South Caucasus. Iran and Turkey, as influential power candidates within their regions, advance individual objectives in shared geographical environs, which may not necessarily converge, revealing discordant elements within each entity’s geostrategy. Turkey’s overarching policy approach, as realized in the South Caucasus, Central Asia, Iraq, Syria, and several other neighboring countries, evidences a spirit of competition with Tehran. This rivalry, as per certain opinions, innately constraints Iran’s potentialities in these territories.
Turkey’s endorsement and active role in the genesis of the Zangezur Corridor has instigated a contention between Iran and Turkey within the South Caucasus. Fidan, an advocate of this project, hails it as a landmark occurrence in the new age. Amidst this, the Zangezur Corridor stands to change Iran’s geopolitical landscape. Turkey, in Iran’s perception, is primarily a transit route, but Turkey’s ambitious aspirations indicate alterations in the geopolitical framework affecting Iran’s access to transit and communication routes to neighboring areas in the north and western flanks of Iran.
Simultaneously, notwithstanding the fiscal goals, the impetus propelling the establishment of the aforementioned corridor springs from Erdogan’s ethnocentric stratagem targeting the South Caucasus and Central Asia. Such an ethnocentric approach forms a significant hurdle in the bilateral and regional rapport between Tehran and Ankara, consequently infringing upon Iran’s national security within its boundaries and spanning the South Caucasus and Central Asia.
Concurrently, specialists have sounded the alarm regarding the potentially catastrophic environmental outcomes of Turkey’s unilateralist tactic, involving the construction of a multitude of dams, on border waters shared with Iran and other neighbors. Turkey’s blueprints, embodied in the DAP project encompassing the Aras basin and GAP spanning the Tigris and Euphrates basins, are precipitating alterations in the climatic and environmental states of Iran, and other nations in the region. As a result, a hydropolitical dispute looms on the horizon, expected to challenge the future trajectory of Iran-Turkey relationships.
Opportunities and grounds for expansion of ties
Despite the gamut of divergent interests and policies exhibited by Iran and Turkey, a pragmatic method has enabled cordial relations between Tehran and Ankara, marked by mutual support in certain circumstances over the past decades. Over the past 20 years, a consistent pattern discernible in Turkey’s foreign policy vis-a-vis Iran has been one of cooperation-competition. For instance, notwithstanding Western sanctions, the economic ties binding Iran and Turkey have diversified substantially.
The strategies of Tehran and Ankara, as applied to Iraq and Syria, albeit exhibiting discrepancies, converge over a shared strategic objective – opposing Kurdish separatism. In context to this, a key element of Fidan’s discussions with Iranian authorities pertained to the agenda of consultations and cooperation between Tehran and Ankara on implementing measures to curb the rising tide of Kurdish separatist movements along the shared borders. Recently, the Turkish Ministry of Defense publicized an airstrike targeted at the PKK headquarters in northern Iraq, resulting in numerous casualties from the group.
Concurrently, Turkey’s revamped approach towards Syria and endeavors to initiate dialogues to address the issues marring relations between Ankara and Damascus have also surfaced as matters open for discussion and cooperation with Iran. Consequently, Tehran has been assigned the mediatorial task of forging a path to restore the diplomatic ties between Ankara and Damascus. The recent visit of Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan to Iran, closely following the venture of Hossein Amirabdollahian to Syria, lends additional substance to this interpretation. Nevertheless, an intriguing factor pertaining to the relationship between Damascus and Ankara is the prolonged presence of Turkish military in Syria and the ongoing skirmishes between Turkish and Syrian armed forces present within Syrian borders.
Evidently, Turkey’s foreign policy methodologies, akin to numerous nations, are undergoing mutations in response to the shifts in the international climate, while preserving certain core principles. Ankara, hence, grapples complicated equations on the international field, the most significant of them representing the nature of engagement with Eastern powers, whilst striving to maintain its earlier ties with the West. The simultaneous effort to sustain its relationships with Russia, and to expand the scope of its interactions with the West and NATO while countering the escalated pressure from Washington, poses a formidable dilemma for Turkey. Yet, despite the potential and actual factors inciting divergence in Iran-Ankara relations, geographical proximity and shared security interests have woven a robust nexus between Iran and Turkey.
Additionally, the possibilities for expansion of economic relations between Iran and Turkey abound. Iran and Turkey, being neighboring nations, boast of interdependent economies. The magnitude of trade relations between both countries has been disclosed to be worth over 12 billion dollars. Consequently, economic relations between Iran and Turkey reveal not just the existence of unprecedented trade and commercial potential, but also the capacity for large-scale undertakings including economic corridors and geo-economic projects. Turkey serves as a conduit for Iran’s trade with Europe, and Iran also acts as a link for Turkey’s connection with the Indian subcontinent.
Experts believe that energy can be one of the pillars of the grand plans in the relationship between Iran and Turkey. Based on Hakan Fidan’s executive record, his travels since taking office and the statements made by the Turkish Foreign Minister, it can be inferred that Ankara aspires to become a regional and global political and economic hub. This goal also implies Ankara’s endeavor to expand bilateral relations with Iran.