Iranian President Visits Turkey First Time in 18 YearsSelcan Hacaoglu
Turkey may buy more Iranian natural gas if a price dispute can be settled, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said after talks with Hassan Rouhani, the first Iranian president to visit Turkey in 18 years.
Erdogan said he and Rouhani discussed gas pricing during a meeting in Ankara yesterday, and asked energy ministers from the two countries to keep working on it. Turkey filed a complaint to the International Court of Arbitration in 2012 over the price of the gas it imports from Iran.
“We have decided to improve relations in gas, oil and electricity, even though there are some snags,” Rouhani said at a joint press conference in the Turkish capital late yesterday, describing the talks as a “turning point” in relations.
Rouhani is seeking to reconnect Iran with the world economy after a decade of isolation. Trade with neighboring Turkey plunged last year as a result of U.S.-led sanctions. The countries have also sparred over Syria, where they’re supporting different sides in the civil war.
A regional rival to Iran, Turkey is also “a very important potential partner that could help Rouhani” as he seeks to ease Iran’s isolation, said Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, director of the German Marshall Fund of the United States in Ankara, in an e-mail on June 6.
Rouhani was accompanied on his trip to Turkey by more than 100 businessmen, seven ministers and central bank Governor Valiollah Seif, according to his Twitter account. The countries agreed to link their railway networks and improve cooperation in banking, Rouhani told an earlier news conference with Turkish President Abdullah Gul.
The prospect of a final nuclear accord between Iran and world powers is encouraging governments and companies to prepare for a possible lifting of sanctions, which would create business opportunities in the Persian Gulf’s most populous country.
Turkey’s Development Minister Cevdet Yilmaz said June 3 that annual trade between the countries could double to $30 billion next year if the “unfair” sanctions against Iran are lifted. Trade climbed to $22 billion in 2012, propelled by purchases of Iranian natural gas with gold, before tumbling to $14.6 billion last year, Yilmaz said.
The gold trade with Iran largely ended after the U.S. Senate voted to approve new sanctions against Iran, closing gaps from previous measures, including trade in precious metals.
“There may be tension over the civil war in Syria. But there appears to be far more drawing these two neighbors together than driving them apart,” Jonathan Schanzer, vice president of research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington, said in an e-mail. “This, of course, raises questions about Turkey’s reliability as a U.S. ally and as a NATO ally.”
Turkey’s engagement with Iran won’t raise objections in the U.S. or European Union, provided Turkey doesn’t break ranks in its commercial dealings with the Islamic republic, said Unluhisarcikli of the German Marshall Fund.
“So long as it plays along these lines, Turkey’s dialog with Rouhani will be more than welcome,” he said.