Will an empowered Iran be rival to Turkey?

Although the recent rapprochement between Iran and the West could bring positive developments to the Middle East, an empowered Iran could also emerge as a regional rival to Turkey.

al-monitor European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton (3rd L) delivers a statement during a ceremony at the United Nations in Geneva, during which Iran and six world powers reached a breakthrough agreement early on Sunday to curb Tehran's nuclear program in exchange for limited sanctions relief November 24, 2013.  Photo by REUTERS/Denis Balibouse.

Topics covered

turkey’s middle east policy, syria civil war, regional politics, mohammad javad zarif, iran’s regional influence, iranian nuclear issue, iranian foreign policy, geneva ii, ahmet davutoglu

Nov 29, 2013

It was an opportune moment for Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu to visit Tehran to attend the Economic Cooperation Organization meeting immediately after the nuclear accord between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany (P5+1). Our minister had a good opportunity to discuss with his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, regional developments in light of the latest developments.

Both sides agreed to closer dialogue. Iran’s apparent moves to reintegrate itself in the world following from the Geneva accord have created a suitable environment for such close cooperation. The focus of the Davutoglu-Zarif meeting was on the Syrian crisis. As Zarif noted, there are some deep differences in approach of the two countries to this crisis. But both parties share the same views on some points. For example, both parties fully support the Geneva II conference to convene Jan. 22.

The main result of this meeting is the joint decision by Iran and Turkey to take action toward an immediate cease-fire in Syria. Ankara will try to convince the opposition groups it supports to agree, while Tehran will do the same with the Damascus regime.

If these efforts yield results and a cease-fire is secured before the Geneva II meeting, this will be the first successful joint initiative by Ankara and Tehran, which until now had always adopted conflicting positions.

Much has been said about the potential positive effects of the nuclear accord on Turkish-Iranian relations. This will contribute to development of relations in trade and energy and help dissipate the existing chilly relations.

But there are also those who question what an Iran that opens up to the outside and integrates into the world will mean strategically for Turkey. Bluntly stated, will an empowered Iran be a rival to Turkey? Will Turkey pay for it?

There has been a perpetual underlying rivalry between Turkey and Iran, including during the Shah's rule. Since the revolution, Iran has been trying to export its model and has been measurably successful in creating a sphere of influence under the Shiite banner. It is likely to continue boldly along this path, encouraged by its new position on the international stage.

That is why there are those who point to the possibility of Iran forming closer relations with the West and the United States and consequently devaluing the strategic importance of Turkey in the region. On issues such as Syria, Iran might take the initiative to look amicably to the West and cooperate with that camp. Washington might perceive Iran as an actor that can share some roles.

But this will be subject to the influence of Turkey’s position toward regional countries and issues. Unfortunately, Turkey’s recent policies have caused problems and even isolated it.

All this aside, the agreement on Syria between Davutoglu and Zarif indicates that their countries' positions could be revised for joint action despite their differing views and rivalry.

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