June 9, 2014 | Policy Brief

Rouhani In Ankara: The Latest Sign Of Warming Iran-Turkey Ties

June 9, 2014 | Policy Brief

Rouhani In Ankara: The Latest Sign Of Warming Iran-Turkey Ties

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani arrived in Ankara today with a large delegation for his first state-level trip to Turkey. He met with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul to discuss Turko-Iranian relations and other developments in the Middle East. 

Political and ideological differences have historically prevented a traditional alliance between the Islamic Republic and the NATO member state. Today, the Syrian civil war (Iran backs Assad, Turkey backs the opposition) is a source of tension. But Rouhani’s arrival in Ankara is just the latest sign that ties are warming nevertheless.

Soon after Rouhani was inaugurated, he met with Turkey’s Foreign Minister Davutoglu and praised their relationship. This was followed by a September visit to Tehran by Cemil Cicek, the Speaker of the Turkish Parliament. More recently, in a January visit to Tehran, Prime Minister Erdogan visited Iran, met with the Supreme Leader, likened Iran to his “second home,” and inked a deal with Iranian officials for “a preferential trade agreement.”

Much of this can be boiled down to economics. Turkey is a major energy market for Iran. 90 percent of all Iranian exports to Turkey are energy-related. Waivers from the U.S. State Department have allowed Turkey to purchase Iranian crude amidst a slew of international sanctions imposed because of Iran’s pursuit of its illicit nuclear program. Sanctions were the source of the drop in trade last year, down to a reported $14.6 billion. Turkey is keen to up its trade figures with Iran, hoping to reach $30 billion.

But last year’s numbers don’t tell the whole story. Turkey facilitated the 2012-2013 “gas-for-gold” sanctions-busting scheme, which provided Iran roughly $13 billion worth of Turkish gold. More recently, a corruption scandal, which erupted in December 2013 and was detailed in a leaked prosecutor’s report in March, indicates that Iranian businessmen conducted another €87 billion in illicit trade through Turkey. That helped yield Iran an additional windfall.

The inking of “10 documents of cooperation” with Turkey today comes on the heels of a historic visit by the Kuwaiti Emir to Tehran, who also signed six deals with the Islamic Republic. Iran is clearly on a diplomatic and economic offensive, lining up its partners in anticipation of additional sanctions relief amidst ongoing nuclear talks.

Today, Rouhani and his team are expected to try and rectify issues over payment for its natural gas; pricing has been the subject of Turkish concern. There will also likely be a discussion about a literal pipe dream, a possible Turkish route for Iranian natural gas to Europe.

More broadly, Iran appears intent to peel Turkey away from the Western block. As unlikely as that may seem, the modern incarnates of the Ottoman and Persian Empires seem to have no problem prioritizing financial dealings despite political differences.

Behnam Ben Taleblu is an Iran Research Analyst at Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), where Merve Tahiroglu is a Research Associate focusing on Turkey.


Iran Turkey