By Mohammad Mazhari

Iran-Turkey relations have not reached the desired level, but progressing: Turkish expert

September 5, 2020 - 1:30

TEHRAN - Kadir Ertach Chelik, a Turkish academic, believes that cooperation between Tehran and Ankara has been progressing despite the fact that the two countries' relations have not reached the desired level.

Noting that Iran and Turkey have not experienced any serious conflict or crisis since the 1648 Kasri Shirin agreement, Chelic tells the Tehran Times that "there are serious historical and political ties between Turkey and Iran, a destiny that has brought unity and cultural geography."

The following is the text of the interview:

Q: Border disputes between Turkey and Greece have taken new dimensions due to the discovery of vast gas resources in the Eastern Mediterranean. What does natural gas discovery mean for Turkish foreign policy?

A: First, it should be noted that the issue is not a border dispute. The problem here is more about maritime sovereignty areas than the border issue. Based on Greece and Turkey's continental borders and territorial waters in the Aegean Sea, there are disputes regarding the arming of disputed islets and islands by Greece. These problems between the two countries started, especially after the 1980s, and caused crises involving conflict risk. 

In this context, it should be noted that according to both the 1982 Maritime Law Convention and other legal texts, the Greek side acts against international law and fairness. In the Eastern Mediterranean issue, it is seen that Greece follows a revisionist and illegal foreign policy.

 First of all, Greece does not have any maritime sovereignty areas in the Eastern Mediterranean. However, it tries to enter the Eastern Mediterranean through the Greek Cypriot side on the one hand and by making bilateral agreements with countries such as Egypt on the other. These attempts are due to both potential energy sources in the Eastern Mediterranean and global competitions. 

In other words, the Greek part is the proxy actor of other European states. Turkey seems to have historical and legal rights. Meanwhile, it was officially announced that a natural gas field was found in the Black Sea. It seems that the recent discovery of the gas reserve decreases Turkey's dependence on external energy, which means more economic empowerment of the country. Thus, it will be the beginning of Turkey's stronger foreign policy globally and regionally.

Q: Would the new discovery affect Turkey's relationship with Iran, given that Iran is among Turkey's main gas suppliers?

A: There are serious historical and political ties between Turkey and Iran, a destiny that has brought unity and cultural geography. We are talking about two countries that respect the static borders drawn since the 1648 Kasri Shirin agreement and have not experienced any serious conflict or crisis. In addition, the cooperation of the two countries in the Middle East (West Asia) or their support of each other has increased in recent years. For example, in the Qatar crisis, Iran helped Turkey to support Doha. Turkey cooperates with Iran within the framework of confronting the Western-backed terrorist attack against Tehran.

 All of these show Turkey moves to cooperate with Iran. In this regard, the chief of the Turkish General Staff has made visits to Iran, which was a historical turning point. Apart from that, many high-level mutual visits were made. Also, in the Syrian civil war, Iran, Russia, and Turkey cooperate within the framework of Astana as a collaborative operating model that demonstrated resistance against global imperial powers.

 When evaluated in this respect, although the two countries' relations have not reached the desired level, it was progressing positively. Of course, Turkey imports natural gas from Iran, which has approximately 32 trillion cubic meters of natural gas reserves. 

But the finding does not mean that Turkey's new energy reserves would bypass Iran. Firstly, this gas reserve in the Black Sea, which will be used in the field, of which Turkey will distribute it all around the country. 

Also, this gas should be compared with the other reserves by using techniques in terms of quality. Other than that, the gas still to be exported. In other words, export to Europe may be especially possible. Still, these elements are not known. 

But in economic terms, Turkey will be less dependent on other countries and will be able to move more easily regarding its relations with Iran. In other words, some countries will not be able to use their energy and economic cards as before. It also strengthens the possibility of Turkey's capacity to give more support to Iran. Of course, some commentators say, "Turkey moves away from how much more after finding gas reserves". I think these comments are not correct. Because relations between Turkey and Iran are not just economic. There are also common cultural and common historical ties with Iran. Therefore, with a strong Turkey, Iran makes more and more comfortable cooperation. Tehran has good relations with Ankara in very important fields, especially for the existence of peace and tranquility in the Middle East (West Asia). If both countries strengthen the ties, a strong front may be formed against ethnic and religious conflicts, terrorist organizations, and imperialist powers in the Middle East (West Asia).

Q: Given its geopolitical ties with neighboring countries, how does Turkey define its economic relations with its neighbors, including Iran and Cyprus?

A: Turkey is trying to develop friendly relations with all countries in the region. It acts with a peaceful foreign policy. This also includes economic relations. The win-win economic approach in relation to all neighboring countries, including Iran, is developing in Turkey. Thus, an improvement in the region's welfare and the development of economic relations contribute to the peaceful resolution of other political problems. Relations with the Greek Cypriot side are on a different scale.

First of all, the Greek Cypriot side claims that the whole island belongs to itself by violating Cyprus's agreements, especially the Guarantee Agreements. This is against international law. There are two states on Cyprus's island: the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus and the Greek state. Because of the violation of law by the other side, Turkey has no economic and diplomatic relations with Greece. 

However, based on legal provisions, we can find a peaceful settlement on the island because of its economic and geo-strategic significance, and it may contribute to taking steps forward in the future.

"Through establishing good relations with the West as well as the East, Turkey can help to alleviate the crisis in the region and can offer a greater contribution to the solve the problems."

Q: Last November, Turkey signed an agreement with Libya on maritime borders in the Mediterranean, which was opposed by Greece, Egypt, and Cyprus. Now Ankara criticizes the agreement between Egypt and Greece. What is the main problem between Turkey and these countries?

A: The agreement signed between Turkey and Libya is valid and legitimate internationally and in the UN's eyes. It also gives more sovereignty areas to other Mediterranean countries, especially Egypt. However, the agreement that Greece made with Egypt is problematic in three aspects. First, Greece and Egypt are not neighbors in the Mediterranean.

Therefore, they don't have the right to make such an agreement. Secondly, bilateral agreements concluded under international law cannot affect the agreements of other states. Thirdly, with this agreement, Greece violates all Eastern Mediterranean countries' sovereignty areas, including Egypt. In other words, we face an occupation by the agreement.

 Because the agreement is against the Law of the Sea Convention and general principles of law and fairness, Turkey, at this point, protects Egypt and other countries' rights. After all, the problems between the countries mentioned in the question have different dimensions. The UAE supports Egypt and follows a policy that is clearly against Turkey. Egypt needs to maintain the Emirates' economic support, so it defends its stances, and both countries are uncomfortable with Turkey's stance against non-democratic governments. They also play a role in designing the region according to the will of global powers. Turkey confronts imperialist states in the Middle East (West Asia), and some states do not feel comfortable. Egypt and the UAE represent these imperialist states in the region.

Q: Once Turkey raised the slogan of "zero problems with neighbors," while today, some observers talk about "nothing but problems". What is your comment?

A: After the First World War, Turkey was established when under the motto of "peace at home, peace in the world," as Ataturk said. Recently, it has been expressed as a policy of "zero problems with neighbors". So, Turkey is peaceful, and the status quo is in favor of non-revisionist foreign policies that respect international law. This policy continues today. Turkey is not formed based on the problem or crisis. Even today, the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs has declared that it supports negotiations with Greece without any preconditions. Greece is the most recent example of a state that is creating a problem with Turkey.

However, in Turkey, fighting the actors disrupt the peace in the region is seen as an international responsibility. 

For example, it opposes Israel's measures in persecuting Palestinians. If some states say this is a problem, I think it is an honorable position. Another example was against the Saudi blockade against Qatar. This is also an honorable foreign policy. The best example to be given in this regard is the Astana Process. Turkey did its best to solve the problems through cooperation with Russia and Iran. Therefore, these comments towards Turkey does not carry good intentions and is unfair to Turkey.

Q: How would President Erdogan regulate Turkey's economy and foreign exchange to balance its relationship with the U.S. and Russia? Is Turkey turning towards the East?

Turkey is a bridge between the East and the West. It is an important center. For this reason, it should improve its relations with both the West and the East. We call this multi-directional foreign policy. Also, the East-West divide is a separation of the Cold War era. However, today there is a different international system.

The Turkish state has seen this fact. Therefore, it follows a balanced foreign policy with all actors, which is rational. Thus, Turkey will not become dependent on any state. Turkey will be stronger and more independent. There are also benefits for the region through Turkey's foreign policy. Through establishing good relations with the West as well as the East, Turkey can help to alleviate the crisis in the region and can offer a greater contribution to the solve the problems.

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