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Hot on the heels of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to Russia, reports are circulating in Iran that he may be about to visit Tehran.
If Erdogan and his ministers are somewhat reticent about the precise nature of the help Russia gave them during the recent coup attempt, they have been much more open about the support they got from Iran. Turkish Foreign Minister Davlut Cavusoglu had this to say during Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif’s visit to Ankara on 12th August 2016
“During the coup night, I did not sleep until morning nor did my friend Javad Zarif. He was the foreign minister I talked to most, calling me five times during the night.”
(Bold italics added)
That confirms the Iranian authorities were in continuous contact with Erdogan’s ministers throughout the coup attempt, giving moral support and conceivably advice.
For men who have said that they feared for their lives during the coup attempt the psychological importance of these calls assuring them of support cannot be overstated.
Iran’s Fars news agency is already talking up the importance of Erdogan’s predicted visit, talking of a tripartite axis of Turkey, Iran and Russia. However some words of caution are in order.
Firstly, it is not yet absolutely confirmed that Erdogan definitely is travelling to Iran.
Secondly, expectations of a change in Turkish policy towards Syria are contradicted by earlier Iranian reports that Turkey has just allowed 1,000 heavily armed Jihadis to cross the Turkish border into Idlib province.
Last but not least, on 24th August 2016 Erdogan will be hosting another important visitor in Ankara in the person of US Vice-President Biden. It is a certainty that Biden will be voicing US concerns about any excessive enthusiasm in Ankara for a Turkish rapprochement with Tehran or Moscow.
Though it is unlikely – though not impossible – that Biden will make any explicit threats, the risk for the Turks of incurring US displeasure by taking their rapprochement with Tehran and Moscow too far is all too clear.
On balance Erdogan’s trip to Tehran – if it happens – will repeat the pattern of his trip to St. Petersburg. He will thank the Iranians profusely for their support during the coup. He will call the Iranian leaders his “friends”. Various economic and political agreements will follow. However it will all stop some way short of a full realignment, and Turkey’s policy towards Syria in the meantime will remain the same.