Turkey-Iran Foreign Relations
Reaction to June 2009 Iranian Presidential Election:
In June 2009, Turkish President Abdullah Gul called Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to congratulate him on his re-election and wished Iran continued success.
Ankara has announced its support for Iran’s right to possess nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, although it has also stated that this should occur in compliance with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).  Turkey has also supported a diplomatic solution to the international conflict and offered to help negotiate a peaceful settlement between Iran and the U.S. and EU.
In October 2009, Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdrogan, exposed divisions in NATO by accusing the west of treating Iran unfairly over its nuclear program. Erdrogan insisted that Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whom he described as a friend, had no interest in building an atomic bomb, arguing that “there is a style of approach which is not very fair because those who accuse Iran of pursuing nuclear weapons have very strong nuclear infrastructures and they don’t deny that.”
In November 2009, Iranian and Turkish officials held talks on a proposal put forward by IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei, for Iran’s uranium to be sent to Turkey for temporary safekeeping. Though Iran is reluctant to agree to an IAEA-brokered nuclear fuel deal, under which it would ship most of its low-enriched uranium abroad for further processing, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told Bloomberg news that Ankara always wants to help to resolve disputes. This same idea was rejected by Tehran in the past. During a meeting with his Spanish counterpart, Davutoglu reiterated Turkey’s offer to act as a mediator between Iran and the West, emphasized that Turkey convinced Iran to send a delegation headed by Iranian NSC Secretary Saeed Jalili to meet with EU High Representative Javier Solana, who also presided as moderator of the UN P5+1. Davutolglu said that the dialogue has successfully reached this point due to Turkish efforts.
In late November 2009, the IAEA passed a rebuke of Iran for building a second enrichment plant in secret, 25 votes to three. Turkey, along with 5 other countries, abstained. The resolution by the 35-member IAEA Board of Governors called on Iran to halt uranium enrichment and immediately freeze the construction of its Fordo nuclear facility, located near Qom.
In late December 2009, after Iran previously stated that it would only accept a nuclear exchanged with the West on its own territory, Mottaki stated that Iran would be willing to swap nuclear material with the West in Turkey as a counteroffer to the UN drafted deal aimed at inhibiting Tehran’s ability to produce atomic weapons. Mottaki’s Turkish counterpart, Davutoglu, welcomed the Iranian announcement and reiterated the point that the Turkish government would do its best to help reach a diplomatic solution to the standoff over Iran’s nuclear program.
In late February 2010, The US began stepping up pressure on Turkey to back new sanctions against Iran, highlighting the difficulties Washington faces in forging a consensus on Tehran’s nuclear program. US Deputy Secretary of State, James Steinberg commented on Ankara’s reluctance saying, “Turkey has as much reason to be concerned about the prospect of a nuclear Iran as anybody. We don’t need them to label Iran. We need them to work with us to make sure that Iran doesn’t become nuclear weapons-capable.” As Western countries were hoping for a unified international effort to support an expected United Nations resolution imposing new sanctions against Iran, as many as four countries – Turkey, Lebanon, Brazil and China – signaled that they may abstain from a vote this year. A new resolution would need only nine of the Security Council’s 15 votes to pass, but the abstentions would be seen as a blow because U.S. officials and their allies want to convince Iran that it faces economic and political isolation if it continues work on its nuclear program.
In March 2010, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced his belief that Iran’s nuclear program was only for civilian purposes.  He spoke of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as a “friend” and added, “I told him I don’t want to see nuclear weapons in the region.”
In May 2010, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu visited Tehran. Upon his return, Davutoglu stated plainly that he is opposed to new sanctions against Iran, reiterating the general consensus amongst Turkish officials who want to avoid sanctions and military actions against Iran for their nuclear program.
In May 2010, the P5+1, that is Russia, Germany, Britain, France, China, and the U.S., reached a new agreement regarding sanctions against Iran. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described this agreement as a “strong draft” of a resolution. The new agreement, with the change in Russian and Chinese decision to sign on to a new round of sanctions, came after Turkey and Brazil brokered a nuclear swap deal with Iran. The Turkey-Brazil proposal would allow Iran to enrich uranium at a considerably high level of purity, that is, higher than levels permitted by international law.[25
In late June 2010, Turkey slightly changed its stance on Iran’s nuclear program: Ankara urgently called upon Tehran to move toward negotiations with the world powers over a nuclear-fuel swap deal. A senior Turkish diplomat expressed frustration with Tehran’s lack of engagement in talks concerning its nuclear program just after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said there would be no talks until the end of August:
“President Ahmadinejad mentioned August. We wish the talks would take place sooner. To keep Iran at the table, one of [Iran’s] conditions was for Brazil and Turkey to vote no, instead of abstaining. I don’t think the Iranians want to antagonize us over this.”
Over the past few years, Turkey and Iran have increased their financial cooperation gradually, largely through oil, deepening their relationship through growing trade and bilateral investment. As Turkey’s energy needs have increased, Iran has actively sought new markets for its most important export, providing an excellent base with which to develop greater avenues of cooperation. Although Ankara has a favorable status with regard to American interests in its near abroad, it recently increased its bilateral trade with Tehran significantly, and the two have discussed the construction of a pipeline that would deliver Iranian oil across Turkey to Italy, thus greatly expanding the scope of Iran’s oil markets in Western Europe. This multinational agreement is often referred to as the Nabucco Project named after the future pipeline linking the East and the West. Even beyond a significant increase in oil and gas trade, Turkey has increased its non-energy trade deficit to Iran, which reached about $2 billion early in 2008. Despite repeated economic sanctions by the United States and the UN to halt international investment in Iran’s energy sector, Turkey has stated that such sanctions will not prevent its cooperation with Iran in supplying its own and Europe’s growing energy needs.
Economic relations between Ankara and Tehran began to improve after the groundbreaking official meeting between Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Nezer and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. For the five years following this 2002 meeting, trade between Turkey and Iran increased more than six-fold, hitting $7.5 billion in 2007. In November 2008, Iran and Turkey signed a memorandum of understanding in which Iran agreed to transfer 35 billion cubic meters of gas to Europe through Turkey; in December 2008, the two made plans to create a joint company to build a natural gas pipeline from Iran to Turkey. The National Iranian Gas Company offered to supply Turkey with more natural gas after Russia shut off gas to Europe in December 2008. In January 2009, the Turkish economic attaché, Ahmad Nuri, claimed that Turkey also receives 18 million cubic meters per day from Iran, making Iran the second largest supplier of gas to Turkey after Russia.
In early November 2009, RWE, a German gas company involved in the Nabucco Project, denied reports that the consortium is already in negotiations with Iranian authorities over gas supplies. Advisor to the Nabucco Project and former Germany Foreign Minister, Joseph Fischer, claimed that “as long as the political situation in Iran is the way it is, Iran is not an option” for energy supplies. Iranian nuclear politics have affected Turkey’s energy policies as Turkey works to become a transportation corridor for Middle East oil and gas to markets in Europe. Turkey has suggested that Nabucco would be a good energy transportation route as soon as the international standoff over Iran’s nuclear program ends and Western powers allow Iran to export gas to Europe.
In March 2009, Iran and Turkey signed a memorandum of understanding agreeing to cooperate in air, land, and sea transportation as part of an effort to raise the two countries’ bilateral trade to $20 billion. The following month, Turkey, Iran, and Iraq signed an agreement to link their power grids and agreed to meet six months later at which time Syria would join the talks.
As of June 2009, a BBC account of Iranian international trade values reported that Turkey was in the top five of Iran’s major trading partners at 5.6% of total imports and exports, following the EU, China, Japan and South Korea, respectively.
Iran has taken steps to make itself more attractive to foreign investment, especially from Turkey, including easing customs regulations in its East Azerbaijan province. In July 2009, it was reported that thirty-eight firms partially owned by Turks were active in and around the Iranian city of Tabriz (capital of the East Azerbaijan province), two of which are entirely Turk-owned. Lower productions costs have played a significant role in the decision of Turkish industrial firms to relocate to Iran. According to a Turkish trade delegation from the country’s Van province (bordering East Azerbaijan), newly approved provincial legislation will aid in the continuing expansion economic ties. The head of the trade delegation indicated that economic cooperation between the two provinces could reach $200 million.
In July 2010, a Turkish firm sign a $1.3 billion deal with Iran to “build a gas pipeline from Iran to Turkey that would supply gas to Europe. This deal is contemporaneous with a new round of UN sanctions that Turkey voted against.
In late July 2010, gas flow from Iran to Turkey was put on hiatus after an explosion in eastern Anatolia, which damaged the pipeline. The manager of Iran’s eight zone of gas transfer operations Valiollah Dini stated, “Iran’s gas exports to Turkey will resume on Sunday before noon,” and he maintained that the suspension of gas flow between the two countries was due to technical problems.
Turkish and Iranian bilateral relations suffered in the 1980s and 1990s due to disagreements over the PKK, a group which Ankara classified as a terrorist organization that used the Turkey-Iran border to launch attacks into Turkey. As Turkey and Iran have pursued better bilateral relations, the two have also agreed to cooperate against terrorist organizations in the region; this included a move by Tehran to classify the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) as a terrorist organization.
Iran has used its recent oil and gas deals with Turkey—a NATO member, U.S. ally, and candidate for EU membership—to improve political relations between the two, despite the U.S. government’s disapproval. Iran began courting Turkey as a powerful new partner in 2002, when Turkish president Ahmet Necdet Sezer made an unprecedented visit to Iran. It seems that Tehran hoped to enhance complicated political and security ties and improve trade and economic relations. The visit, was a qualified success: though “politically at odds with Iran over many regional issues, the Turkish president [held] awkward discussions with his Iranian hosts amid signs of improving economic relations.” Since 2002, as economic cooperation has deepened between Tehran and Ankara, the political relationship between the two countries has improved.
Since August 2008, when Ahmadinejad made an official visit to meet with Turkey’s president and prime minister, Turkey and Iran have begun to formalize political relations. During Ahmadinejad’s visit, the two countries’ presidents signed five memorandums of understanding on security cooperation, combating organized crime, economic cooperation, and education. In January 2009, Iranian Parliamentary Speaker Ali Larijani made an official visit to meet with Turkish President Abdullah Gul, and in March 2009, Gul attended the summit of the Economic Cooperation Organization in Tehran. The two countries have declared 2009 the “Iran-Turkey Culture Year” and began holding cultural relations conferences since January 2009.
At a June 2009 meeting with Turkish State Secretary Baghish Egemen, Iranian Ambassador to Ankara Bahman Hossinpour stressed his nation’s approval of Turkey’s pursuit of membership in the European Union, saying that “the Islamic Republic of Iran has supported Turkey's membership at the EU in the past and will do [sic] in the future.” During the same June 2009 conversation, Egemen said that Turkish membership in the EU would help expand Iran-Turkish economic cooperation.
Turkey hosted a meeting of the Friends of Democratic Pakistan in August 2009, which was attended by representatives of several international organizations and senior officials from twenty countries, including Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki. The meeting focused on examining ways to stabilize Pakistan and combat extremism. On August 26, 2009 while at the summit, Mottaki met with Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs Ahmet Davutogli. Davutogli indicated that Iran’s June 2009 election had “promoted Iran’s position and status in the international area.”
In late October 2009, Iranian Vice President Mohammed-Reza Rahimi officially welcomed Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Tehran. Erdogan discussed the increasing ties between Turkey and Iran with a number of high-ranking Iranian officials. He highlighted Turkish-Iranian confluence of interests in regional developments, saying the two countries’ roles in Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine complete each other.  In a meeting with Edrogan, Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani said that “Iran-Turkey cooperation can strengthen security in the region.” In response to Turkey’s cancellation of the Turkey-Israel joint military exercise and its call for further cooperation among Islamic countries to help Gazans, Larijani praised Ankara’s stance on Palestinian and Gazan issues and said that taking these approaches improves Turkey’s position in the region and in the Islamic world.
In November 2009, Ahmadinejad visited Turkey to take part in the Organization of the Islamic Conference Economic Summit in Istanbul.
In December 2009, Iranian and Turkish military forces coordinated together to fight guerrilla separatists of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party along the Turkish border with Iran and Iraq.