Raisi and Erdogan: Competition or Cooperation

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Raisi and Erdogan: Competition or Cooperation

Raisi and Erdogan: Competition or Cooperation

Raisi and Erdogan, the governments of Iran and Turkey, are seeking a way to alleviate some of their own pains caused by a multitude of economic problems and crises in various areas. They are sitting together at a table to find a solution.

In this meeting, which took place on February 4th, the main issue for Iran, as Ibrahim Raisi had previously mentioned before the trip, was the economy. In this regard, according to Hojatollah Abdul-Maliki, the Secretary of the Supreme Council of Free Trade, Tehran had prepared a thousand investment packages worth 20 billion euros for Ankara.

However, Turkish media raised another issue. They stated that Turkey’s priority in the bilateral meeting was terrorism. Turkey has been involved in terrorist attacks in recent months, and in the past 40 days, 21 soldiers of this country have been killed in attacks carried out from northern Syria and Iraq. The Turkish society expects regional countries, including Iran, to cooperate with them in the fight against terrorism.

The Iranian side, while addressing this concern, sees the current relationship beyond that. Nasser Kanaani, the spokesperson for the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, explained in Azar of this year about the cooperation between Iran and Turkey. The relations between Iran and Turkey are completely clear. One can see a good example of neighborly relations between the two countries in various fields, and God willing, it will continue.

However, the two countries have many unresolved and accumulated issues between them. Both the statement released after this meeting, which was published on the fifth of Bahman, and the note that Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, the Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs, published on the eve of his trip in the national newspaper of Turkey, testify to the accumulation of these issues.

In this note, he mentioned a long list of issues that exist between the two countries and require decision-making. These issues encompass almost all levels of cooperation, from cultural, border, and military issues to economic matters. The Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Islamic Republic emphasized the need to increase trade between the two countries and highlighted that the Islamic Republic of Iran is currently one of the most important suppliers of natural gas to Turkey. The gas pipeline between the two countries has been one of the important symbols of sustainable economic cooperation between the two countries since 2001.

However, looking at the statistics of Iran’s gas exports to Turkey indicates that what Iran considers important does not hold the same significance for Turkey, as gas sales from Iran to Turkey had a 50% decrease last year. This difference in numbers and statements reflects some of the problems between these two countries.

Canceled trips

Prior to this trip, over the past year, there have been several reports about Ibrahim Raeisi being invited by Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the media of both countries. Except for the previous trip that was supposed to take place on January 4th but was canceled due to a deadly attack by ISIS in Kerman, it is not clear why previous trips were canceled.

Amir-Abdollahian had previously stated that the reason for canceling a trip scheduled for November was that the foreign ministers of both countries were in the United States and the meeting could not be held. However, his statements did not convince many because they could have planned for a different time, as his counterpart was completely out of Turkey that week. For this reason, different experts have raised different ideas about the cancellation of the trip.

The Iranian party believed that this trip was not canceled because of Turkey’s cooperation with Israel in the commercial field. This is despite the statements of the leader of the Islamic Republic, who had asked Islamic countries to cut off their trade relations with Israel. However, Turkish media had a different approach. They stated that the reason for canceling the trip was the failure to reach an agreement on how to combat terrorism in the region. They claimed that the two countries have different approaches to terrorism and that Iran does not accept Turkey’s policies in this regard.

The verse that Ebrahim Raisi recited from a poem by Hafez during part of his trip was seen by some as a confirmation of the differences between the two countries. In response to this verse, which stated ‘Be happy that the oppressor does not find a way to Erdogan’s home,’ Ibrahim Raisi was addressing this poem to Israel, while Erdogan was considered the addressee.

Joint fight against terrorism

The statements of both presidents during the joint press conference held on the afternoon of January 24th showed that Turkey and Iran consider terrorism as one of their common issues. Ibrahim Raisi reflected his counterpart’s concern in his own words, stating that Iran considers Turkey’s security as important and inviolable as its own security.

However, the Turkish media’s reaction after the meeting indicated that they were not convinced by the statements of the Iranian side. They claim that Iran and proxy forces of the Islamic Republic are contributing to the escalation of tensions along the borders of Turkey. The government and a portion of the Turkish people are concerned about the recent increase in activities of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). They say that the PKK’s infiltration in Sulaymaniyah, the second largest city in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, has intensified in recent months, and this area is under Iran’s influence.

Turkish media reports that the city of Sulaymaniyah is under the control of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Talabani family, which have very close relations with Iran. They consider these forces as intermediaries in this relationship and claim that they provide military assistance to the PKK. In addition to military support, some Turkish experts argue that PKK members can receive training in the Kurdistan Region and have access to specialized healthcare and treatment facilities.

Now that Iran’s influence in Baghdad and the Kurdistan region of Iraq is significant, Turkey is asking Iran to help in the fight against terrorism. However, some Turkish experts, like Abdullah Ağar, believe that Iran may not accept such cooperation due to its KRI corridor project that connects Iraq to the Persian Gulf.

It seems that Turkey is not confident about Iran’s cooperation in this regard, as Ibrahim Kalin, the head of Turkish intelligence, went to Iraq before President Erdogan’s visit to Ankara. During his trip, he discussed terrorist threats against Turkey with President Barham Salih and Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi.

Many in Turkey believe that Turkey wants to find a new solution to the issue of the PKK presence in Iraq. Ankara has carried out numerous attacks against PKK groups in northern Iraq in recent months, which has led to protests in Iraq. However, the Turkish government has also pursued a political solution.

However, Turkey’s political solution is accompanied by threats. Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan issued such a warning during an extraordinary session of the country’s parliament. Despite our sanctions against Sulaymaniyah, if the Kurdish Homeland Union does not change its position in support of the PKK, we will not hesitate to take further actions.

Of course, the issue between the two countries is not limited to what is happening in northern Iraq. Turkey says it also faces terrorist threats in northern Syria. On the other hand, the presence of Iranian forces has hindered this country’s maneuverability to repatriate Syrian refugees to their homeland.

Turkish experts, like Mete Sohtaoglu, say that the problem lies in the cities of Aleppo and Tell Rifaat. He says that these two areas are under the control of Iranian-backed forces such as Fatemiyoun and Zainabiyoun, which has prevented Turkey from initiating the project to repatriate refugees. However, he says that Turkey will soon launch new attacks on these areas.

Perhaps the economy is no longer the same.

The main goal of this meeting was economic issues. Prior to his trip, Ibrahim Raisi had stated that our goal is to elevate the level of trade and economic relations between our country and Turkey to $30 billion, which is achievable with the existing capacities of the two countries. In Ankara and in the joint meeting of the economic activists of both countries, he also highlighted the manifestation of this decision in the documents and agreements that were signed between the two countries today.

Raisi even went beyond that and raised the issue due to the political literature of the Islamic Republic and said that the message of the presence of the leaders of the two countries in this meeting is the determination of Iran and Turkey to carry out a jihadistic and transformative work in the path of resolving the problems and obstacles ahead of comprehensive development of relations, especially in the economic and trade fields. In response, Erdogan also said in a meeting attended by 400 economic activists from Iran and Turkey that we have always emphasized that we are against unilateral sanctions against Iran and we have not severed our economic and trade relations with our neighbor Iran due to these sanctions, and we will not do so in the future. We are determined to reach the $30 billion trade goal with Iran.

Out of the 10 agreements signed between the two countries during this trip, some were in the economic sector. Turkey and Iran are striving to go beyond the economic volume reached in 2012. In that year, the trade between the two countries amounted to $22 billion, but since then, this figure has mostly been below $15 billion. The main excuse of the two countries is that the coronavirus period worsened the situation, but it seems that the issue is not limited to this two-year period.

Turkish newspapers say that one of the reasons for the decrease in the volume of trade is the removal of 68 products from the preferential trade agreement between the two countries by the Iranian side. On the other hand, both sides are dissatisfied with the existing border and customs relations, and in the past years, they have blamed each other for the customs procedures and transit routes. Some economic activists have also addressed the issue and stated that part of the reason for the lack of growth in the volume of trade between the two countries is the banking relations and payments, which the central bank chiefs of both countries were seeking to resolve within the framework of this meeting.

Another reason for the decline in trade between the two countries is the issue of Iran’s gas sales to Turkey. Statistics from the Turkish Energy Market Regulatory Authority indicate that in 2023, compared to the previous year, Iran’s gas exports to Turkey have decreased by more than 50%, and even Iran had no gas exports to Turkey in the months of July and September. These statistics show that Russia and Azerbaijan have taken over Iran’s gas market in Turkey.

However, within the framework of agreements, the two countries have decided to extend the contract for Iran’s gas exports to Turkey for the next 25 years and increase the volume of gas exports. The issues that further complicate the clarity of the trade volume between the two countries are the statistics and figures provided by officials regarding the trade volume between the two countries. Samed Hassan Zadeh, the head of Iran’s Chamber of Commerce, considers the current economic volume of the two countries to be around seven billion dollars.

The statistics provided by the Turkish Minister of Trade are also close to this figure. He also stated during a meeting with economic activists, coinciding with Ibrahim Raisi’s visit, that Turkey’s trade volume is 74 billion dollars.

While the President was present in Ankara, the Head of Iran’s Customs Administration announced that the trade between Iran and Turkey in the first 10 months of this year reached $95 billion, which is a 47% decrease compared to the same period last year. This is surprising considering that he had previously announced the trade volume between the two countries for the first 9 months as $85 billion. Therefore, it seems unlikely that the trade volume for one month between the two countries would reach $1 billion.

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