Turkey PM to visit Iran to expand ties

Turkey PM to visit Iran to expand ties

Despite backing opposite sides in the Syrian civil war, the two countries are working to develop oil and gas trade

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan (photo credit: AFP/Adem Altan/File)
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan (photo credit: AFP/Adem Altan/File)

TEHRAN — Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was due in Tehran Tuesday evening, as both countries seek to expand economic ties and hold talks on the Syrian civil war, an Iranian official said.

Iran is a main ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, while Turkey supports the rebels seeking to oust Assad, and relations have been strained.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu travelled to Tehran in late November and his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif visited Ankara earlier this month.

According to Iran’s foreign ministry, a visit by President Hassan Rouhani to Turkey is also on the agenda.

Erdogan, is under the shadow of a massive graft scandal at home that includes illegal gold sales to Iran, under international sanctions over its nuclear drive. Iran has arrested a tycoon who reputedly played a major role in busting sanctions and was involved in the Turkish scandal.

Foreign ministry spokeswoman Marzihe Afkham called the visit “very important” and said Erdogan meet the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Rouhani and Zarif.

“Dialogue and contacts have entered a new phase, and we hope this trend continues. Besides serving the interests of the two countries, we hope (our dialogue) serve the interests of the region as well,” Afkham said.

Energy-hungry Turkey is planning to increase oil and gas imports from Tehran after the gradual lifting of sanctions on the Islamic republic’s energy sector.

Iran reached an interim deal in November with world powers, under which it agreed to roll back parts of its nuclear program and halt further advances in exchange for the release of billions of dollars in frozen assets and limited relief from crippling sanctions.

According to Iranian media, Erdogan is accompanied by Davutoglu, Energy Minister Taner Yildiz and Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci.

Iranian officials say trade volume between the countries stood at $22 billion (16.2 billion euros) in 2012, before dipping to $20 billion in 2013. The figure is expected to reach $30 billion in 2015.

Five memorandums of understanding are expected to be signed during the trip.

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