Head of the Iranian Staff of Armed Forces Mohammad Baqeri held high-level talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Defense Minister Nurettin Canikli on Wednesday, discussing a range of regional issues including a referendum decision by the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).
Baqeri arrived in Turkey on Tuesday for a three-day visit, the first of its kind since the Iranian Revolution in 1979, holding talks with his counterpart Gen. Hulusi Akar on Tuesday.
No details of the meeting have been given. On August 14, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi said defense cooperation, regional developments, and border issues would be discussed.
Baqeri’s visit comes only a week after Turkey started erecting a wall along its border with Iran in a bid to shore up border security and halt illegal smuggling.
As well as border discussions, Tehran and Ankara have voiced strong opposition to the Kurdistan Regional Government’s announced decision to hold an independence referendum on September 25.
Iran and Turkey are both home to sizeable Kurdish populations, and fear of a spillover from the movement. Turkey has been more assertive, threatening to resort to coercion if the referendum plan is implemented.
“In that country (Iraq), which has been through so many problems, a referendum on independence can make the situation even worse,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told the state-run TRT Haber television news network on Wednesday. “God forbid, it could even bring it to civil war,” he added.
High-level talks between Tehran and Ankara evidence restoration of close relations after years of strain over a list of regional issues.
Speaking at the 53rd Munich Security Conference in Germany on February 19, Cavusoglu accused Tehran of pursuing a “sectarian policy” in the Middle East, days after Erdogan rapped its neighbor of promoting “Persian nationalism.”
The comments drew a strong rebuke from Tehran. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif censured Ankara for being an “unthankful” neighbor with a “weak memory”. Zarif was referring to Iran being the first country to promptly condemn the July 2016 abortive military coup in Ankara.
From stark divergence over the Syrian conflict, the two, coupled with Moscow, came to broker the Astana initiative, a diplomatic push seeking a peaceful end to the bloodshed.
Five rounds of the UN-backed Syrian-Syrian negotiations have made possible a precarious ceasefire to take hold and “de-escalation zones” to be established. A sixth round is due to take place late August as Iran, Turkey and Russia are working out the details of the de-escalation areas.
The Saudi-led besiege of Qatar has also contributed to better ties between Tehran and Ankara which both took side with Doha in the row. On June 5, Saudi Arabia along with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt broke off ties with Qatar.
Qatar was demanded by the blockading nations to curtail its support for the Muslim Brotherhood, close a Turkish military base and downgrade its relations with rival Iran, among others. Doha has resisted bowing down to the requests, importing food from Iran and Turkey. Iran has opened its airspace to Qatari airlines as well.