Iran’s Zarif went to Turkey to push ‘close relations’

Visit comes amid an economic downturn.

FILE PHOTO: Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif looks on during a meeting with Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, in Moscow, Russia December 30, 2019.  (photo credit: REUTERS/EVGENIA NOVOZHENINA)
FILE PHOTO: Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif looks on during a meeting with Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, in Moscow, Russia December 30, 2019.
(photo credit: REUTERS/EVGENIA NOVOZHENINA)
The Russians cancelled a high-level trip to Turkey on Sunday and Iran’s Foreign Minister turned up in Ankara unannounced, heralding potential closer relations with Turkey. The surprising decision by the Russian Foreign Minister and Russian Defense Minister meant Ankara had to turn to its second partner ally in the region, Iran.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif  boarded a plane sometime around when the Russian trip was postponed, so it was not clear if his trip was supposed to have initially been a clandestine event to coincide with Russian visit or if it was arranged at the last minute.  

Given the overall mystery of the Russian cancellation, purportedly due to disagreements over Syria and Libya where Ankara is trying to play the Americans off against the Russians and work both sides, the red carpet for the Iranians was particularly interesting. ISNA news in Iran says that Zarif stressed “relations between Tehran and Ankara  are close in various fields but require further consultations.”
Reports indicate that Turkey and Iran discussed their common view against US sanctions on Iran, a new summit on Syria between Russia, Turkey and Iran, an upcoming meeting in Tehran, resumption of gas trade  and pipeline repairs between the two countries, and cooperation in Libya and against “terrorism.”
Zarif praised the fruitful talks and said he was moving on to Russia next. Flights may resume between the two countries by August. That Iran said Turkey and Iran have the same  view on Libya is interesting because Turkey was trying to pressure the US to do more in Libya and leaked media stories tried to portray Iran and the Syrian regime as on the side of the Libyan opposition, instead of Iran siding with Turkey.
Reports indicate that Turkey and Iran discussed their common view against US sanctions on Iran, a new summit on Syria between Russia, Turkey and Iran, an upcoming meeting in Tehran, resumption of gas trade  and pipeline repairs between the two countries, and cooperation in Libya and against “terrorism.” Zarif praised the fruitful talks and said he was moving on to Russia next. Flights may resume between the two countries by August. That Iran said Turkey and Iran have the same  view on Libya is interesting because Turkey was trying to pressure the US to do more in Libya and leaked media stories tried to portray Iran and the Syrian regime as on the side of the Libyan opposition, instead of Iran siding with Turkey.
Turkey was planning airstrikes for the night that Zarif was scheduled to leave so it may also be that  messages were  relayed to Tehran. In Iran the IRGC and others have denied that  the Kurdistan Workers Party has bases in Iran, appeared to appease Turkey’s assertions  that the PKK operates in Iran. Zarif said that consultations with Turkey are at the highest levels and pointed to Covid-19 as one reason for the need to coordinate. “The Presidents and Ministers and officials have held joint telephone conversations.”  Zarf wants more bilateral trade with Turkey, energy cooperation and cooperation on “region issues.”
Turkey has sought to portray itself as fighting against the Syrian regime, which is backed by Iran and Hezbollah, in Syria’s Idlib. Ankara even tries to tell friends in Washington that it opposes Iran. But  Turkish officials do not  critique Iran. Whereas Turkish officials regularly slam the US, even attacking press freedom in the US and condemning US racism after the George Floyd killing, Ankara has never spoken up about press freedom in Iran or Russia. Turkey is the world’s largest jailor of journalists so it is unclear why it critiques the US on press freedom issues, except to spread negative stories about the US.
Iran, Turkey and Russia have long cooperated on Syria issues as part of the Astana process, sidelining the US on discussions. US officials, particularly Syria envoy James Jeffrey, have begged Turkey to work with the US but Turkish officials have said his comments are not serious. This leaves serious conversations to be had with Zarif and the Iranians. For many years Turkey has argued that Washington should moderate its stance on Iran. Turkey and Iran also both support Hamas. The current meeting is more likely to do with discussions over Iraq and also Turkey’s current opposition to US policy on Israel’s annexation plan. It is not clear if Zarif and his Turkish counterparts discussed Israel. Press TV says Zarif’s main mission related to trade.
Iran is non-plussed that US sanctions have weakened the economy and COVID-19  has  also harmed Iran. According to Press TV trade was down to just $645 million in March with Turkey, a  decline of 70 percent. Iran wants it to return to normal. Iran’s allies in Syria and among Hezbollah are suffering financially so Iran desperately needs the trade to increase or its regional ambitions could be threatened. To survive Iran has tried to cannibalize parts of Iraq’s economy to make Iraq rely on it for energy and other issues, but Iraq’s economy is also now a disaster as oil prices declined. Iran desperately needs something, somewhere and Zarf’s visit was a symbol of that. He has not traveled much since the pandemic began, making only one major trip to meet with the Assad regime in April.