Iran wants to cooperate more closely with Turkey to resolve regional problems, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani told his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a telephone conversation earlier today. Rouhani offered his congratulations to Erdogan on the occasion of Eid al-Adha and stressed that he will do more during his second term in office to expand Tehran’s ties with Ankara in all fields. “With efforts being made by officials of the two countries and the creation of the Turkey-Iran High Council of Cooperation, we witness fundamental changes and improvement in bilateral relations and we can further expand our cooperation and ties,” the Iranian president was quoted as saying in the Iranian media. “Today, the situation in the region is critical and the two countries need to cooperate more than ever before to establish security and stability in the region,” he added. He particularly mentioned about the need for Ankara-Tehran cooperation in Syria and Iraq. Alluding to the Qatari crisis and the Iraqi Kurdistan’s plan to hold an independent referendum, the Iranian president emphasized that Tehran opposes any efforts that would call into question territorial integrity and sovereignty of regional countries. According to the Islamic Republic News Agency, Erdogan also stressed that he is determined to expand Turkey’s political and economic relations with Iran.

Comment: In recent months, Iran and Turkey have taken major steps to reconcile some of their differences and cooperate on issues of mutual interests. In Syria, Tehran and Ankara have been on the opposite sides of the conflict, but they are now cooperating as part of a Russian-led trilateral mechanism to de-escalate the situation and accommodate each other’s concerns to a certain extent. In Iraq, both Ankara and Tehran oppose the Kurdish Regional Government’s move to seek independence.

In a clear signal by both countries to improve their relations, a high-level Iranian military delegation, led by Chief of Iranian Armed Forces Hossein Bagheri, visited Ankara earlier this month and held talks with Erdogan and other top Turkish officials. The two sides discussed ways to bolster bilateral defense ties, coordinate joint counterterrorism efforts in the region, and coordinate on border security issues. The trip was significant as it was the first time that an Iranian military chief traveled to Turkey since the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran, and it came amid major political and military developments in the Middle East.  On August 21, the Iranian media reported that Turkey’s Chief of the General Staff Hulusi Akar will visit Tehran in the near future for further talks. Erdogan is also said to be visiting Iran soon.

But the transactional relationship between Tehran and Ankara is unlikely to transform into an alliance as the two countries any time soon. Ankara and Tehran will continue to compete for power and influence in Syria and Iraq as the weakening of the Islamic State creates a power vacuum in the region. Turkey is positioning itself as the protector of the Sunni communities in Syria and Iraq as well as the broader region, while Iran is expanding its arc of influence through the region's Shiite communities.

On August 22, for example, Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (I.R.G.C.) rejected a claim by Erdogan that the two countries were planning to launch a joint military operation against Kurdish militants in the region. “We have not planned any operations outside the Islamic Republic of Iran’s borders,” said a statement released by the Guards. The I.R.G.C. statement was a surprising rebuke of the Turkish president, who had said that Ankara and Tehran had discussed possible joint military operations against Kurdish militant organizations in northern Iraq. Erdogan said the plan was discussed in meetings between Turkish leaders and the high-profile Iranian delegation that visited Ankara last week.