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Turkish-Iranian Relations: From “Friends with Benefits” to “It’s Complicated”

A few years after Turkey and Iran appeared to be growing closer, the pendulum has swung back and the two sides are increasingly at odds. The turmoil in Syria has brought the long-term competition between Ankara and Tehran for regional influence to the fore. Iran has doubled down on its wager that the current regime in Damascus can weather the storm, while Turkey is betting that a post-Assad Syria would be more closely aligned with its own regional interests. But despite significant differences and growing antagonism, over Syria and more broadly, Turkey and Iran still have substantial reasons to cooperate. These include mutual interests in dealing with restive Kurdish populations and robust trade, particularly Turkey’s reliance on Iranian oil and gas. History suggests that Ankara and Damascus will find ways to manage tensions, so the rivalry for regional influence is more likely to simmer than boil over into outright conflict. The Turkish-Iranian relationship will continue to resist simplistic caricatures.

Turkish-Iranian Relations From Friends with Benefits to It s Complicated
Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and his Iranian counterpart Ali Akbar Salehi (L) attend a news conference in Ankara.
 

Just a few years after key officials in Washington were branding Turkey “Iran’s lawyer” with regard to the latter’s contentious nuclear program, relations between Ankara and Tehran have soured. Between 2009 and 2011, Iran’s and Turkey’s immediate interests aligned, prompting Ankara to adopt a more conciliatory policy towards the Islamic Republic. More recently, however, tensions stemming from Iran’s refusal to grant Turkey economic concessions and the longstanding competition for influence in Iraq and Syria have led to an uptick in tensions. What explains the shift and what are the future prospects for relations between the two sides?

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