Iran, Turkey pledge cooperation despite split over Syria

In a landmark visit to Turkey by Iran`s president, the two countries pledged to work together to stop extremism and bloodshed in the Middle East despite deep differences over Syria`s civil war.

AFP| Last Updated: Jun 10, 2014, 01:23 AM IST

Ankara: In a landmark visit to Turkey by Iran`s president, the two countries pledged to work together to stop extremism and bloodshed in the Middle East despite deep differences over Syria`s civil war.

"Iran and Turkey, the two important countries in the region, are determined to fight against extremism and terrorism," Iran`s President Hasan Rouhani told a news conference in Ankara, adding that neither country benefited from instability in the neighbourhood.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul commended Rouhani on his efforts in opening up Iran to the world since taking office last August.

But the diplomatic niceties papered over a relationship that remains complex and often dysfunctional, with the two sides locked in an increasingly bitter competition for influence between Sunni and Shia Muslim powers in the Middle East.

The biggest division has come over the Syrian civil war, in which they have found themselves supporting opposing sides.

Iran, a Shia theocracy, is the chief backer of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, while Sunni-majority Turkey has moved from trying to encourage reform in Syria to overtly supporting the armed opposition.

Rouhani has congratulated Assad on his re-election for a third seven-year term last week, in a poll ridiculed by Syrian opposition groups and their Western and Arab backers.
"What is important for us is to stop the bloodshed and conflict in Syria, remove terrorists coming from various countries and to let the people of Syria decide on its future," he said today.

Turkey, meanwhile, blasted the elections as "null and void", saying that it was "out of the question to take them seriously".

The Syrian poll "represents a clear contradiction to the Geneva declaration seeking a political solution," a Turkish foreign ministry official told AFP.

Rouhani`s trip to Turkey, flanked by a crowded delegation of ministers and Iranian businessmen, saw 10 bilateral deals signed in several sectors including finance, tourism, culture and communications -- part of efforts to more than double trade to USD 30 billion by 2015.

The Iranian president later met with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who said: "We have made progress in our relations since Rouhani`s election."

Iran and Turkey also chaired the first meeting of a high-level cooperation council, a new mechanism they have established to promote trade and regional integration.