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Iran's Foreign Minister Boosts Ties During Ankara Visit

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, right, welcomes Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif at the foreign ministry in Ankara, Aug. 12, 2016.

The foreign ministers of Turkey and Iran agreed Friday to boost trade relations and pledged greater cooperation on resolving the Syria crisis despite their differences on the issue.

At a joint news conference, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif expressed his country's support to Turkey over last month's failed coup attempt by military officers that left more than 270 people dead.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu was quick to heap praise and thanks on his Iranian counterpart. Cavusolgu stressed how important Zarif’s support was during the July 15 takeover attempt.

"During the coup night, I did not sleep until morning nor did my friend Javad Zarif. He was the foreign minister I talked to most, calling me five times during the night," Cavusoglu said.

US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whose followers Turkey blames for a failed coup, is shown in still image taken from video, as he speaks to journalists at his home in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania, July 16, 2016.
US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whose followers Turkey blames for a failed coup, is shown in still image taken from video, as he speaks to journalists at his home in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania, July 16, 2016.

Lack of Western solidarity

Turkey has complained of a lack of solidarity from Western allies who have raised concerns over Turkey's massive crackdown on alleged supporters of a movement led by U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen. Ankara accuses Gulen of orchestrating the plot to overthrow President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Ankara, complaining of a slow Western response, also is infuriated by growing criticism in Washington and Europe over its ongoing crackdown against alleged coup plotters. More than 35,000 people have been detained, of which nearly 18,000 have been arrested.

Tehran’s support of Ankara is predicted to have positive consequences.

"It's very important for us," declared Ayse Sozen Usluer, Erdogan's chief international adviser. "Whoever gave support to democracy in Turkey and democratic regime in Turkey is very important for us and we will always remember that."

During his Ankara visit, Zarif also met with Erdogan.

Deepening a divide?

Political columnist Semih Idiz of Turkey’s Cumhuriyet newspaper predicts that Tehran’s support during the failed coup will facilitate ongoing efforts to improve relations as well as drive Turkey away from its allies.

"Yet even before the coup, we saw a move to these improved relations," he said. "And of course Iran was one the first countries to come and condemn the coup. Of course, it tried to change the situation to its own advantage by saying Saudi Arabia and Qatar were not so keen in condemning the coup against Erdogan."

Turkey's friends, Iran's rivals

Saudi Arabia and Qatar, both rivals of Iran, have in the last few years become among Ankara’s strongest regional allies. Their relationships are strengthened by a shared support of rebel forces fighting the Syrian regime, which is strongly backed by Tehran.

But Usluer played down differences over Syria with Tehran.

"We don't have serious problems between Iran and Turkey," he said. "We have various cooperative areas in the region. We only have different foreign policy approaches in the region. That's why from time to time we stand on different sides. But these are not serious problems [that] will affect Turkish Iranian relations in the region."

During Zarif’s Friday visit to Ankara, the two countries committed to deepening economic cooperation, particularly in the field of energy. Ankara is striving to become a bridge for Iranian gas to European markets.

"There will be a deepening of relations with Iran, no matter what, in economic ties," predicted International relations expert Soli Ozel of Istanbul’s Kadir Has University.

But he warned age-old rivalries would remain.

"Iran’s hegemonic aspirations, no matter who runs Turkey, are going to be a thorn in the side of the Turkish government. So as usual we will both compete and cooperate," Ozel said.

Zarif’s visit follows Erdogan’s visit this week to Moscow, in which both sides agreed to work together more closely in resolving the Syrian civil war and fighting Islamic State militants.