Limitations delay progress in Turkish-Iranian relations

Turkey’sneighbouring country,Iran, is its second largest supplier of natural gas, and also one if itsmost important sourcesof crudeoil. Yet, despite sharing certain trade and economic interests, many of their individual interests ranging across areas in the Middle East, have turned both states into rivalling nations

Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Hassan Rouhani

In 1996, Iran and Turkey signed a 20 billion USD natural gas sales agreement, which included the construction of a 1,600 miles gas pipeline between Tabriz and Ankara. By 2011,remarkably high levels of economic cooperation were seen between both states when Iran became Turkey’s top trade partner in the Middle East. Trade increased from 2.4 billion USD in 2003 to 16 billion USD in 2011, during which Iran also became one of Turkey’s biggest energy importers, providing Turkey with 51 percent of its oil imports and 19 percent of its gas needs.

Sine then, however, political relations between both states have been strained by a number of issues, with one of their most important concerns stemming from Turkey’s support for opposition towards President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria. For decades, Syria and Iran have strongly supported one another and remained very close allies.Iran has given its full support to Al-Assad’s regime, while Turkey has financially supported the regimes opposition forces, placing both nations in a proxy war against each other.

The situation in Iraq has also caused tension in the relations between Iran and Turkey. SinceU.S.troops were withdrawn from Iraq in 2011, there has been the creation of a power vacuum, which both Turkey and Iran have attempted to fill. Iran has attempted to influence Iran through its Shiite population, while Turkey has advocated a more pluralistic structure in Iraq, with various religious, ethnic, racial and political groups being encouraged to thrive in Iraqi society.

In spite of uncooperative political views, attempts to stabilise economic relations between Iran and Turkey were seen between March and April 2015, when the Iran nuclear deal framework was agreed between the Islamic Republic of Iran and a group of world powers within the United Nations Security Council.

The agreement offered Iran substantial sanction relief and potential to normalise over time by opening the country to foreign investment and trade, allowing Iran to return to the economic status it enjoyed before its pre-sanction periods. This brings along significant opportunities that are expected to help both Turkey and Iran improve their economic relationship.

Even so, Turkey has some reservations about seeing Iran emerge as a regional economic power. With both countries competing for influence and the opportunity to achieve their interests in the changing dynamics of the Middle East, Iran’s increase in economic power could push it slightly ahead in its battle for regional power.

Repairing and advancing Iran’s regional differences remains a key objective in Iranian president Hassan Rouhani’s regime, who knows that halting the war in Syria would be possible if Iran worked alongside Turkey, but uncompromising differences in foreign policy place limitations on just how close Turkey and Iran could potentially move towards building a stable relationship and working together to repair war-torn regions in the Middle East.