08/16/2017, 16.23
TURKEY – IRAN
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Kurds and Islamic State at the centre of the historic visit by Iranian General Bagheri to Turkey

For Iran’s official news agency, the visit is "unprecedented". Turkish media consider it a "milestone" in relations between Tehran and Ankara. Iran’s top Revolutionary Guards official will meet Turkey’s president and defence minister. For analysts and experts, despite its defeats the Islamic state is still a threat to the future of Syria and Iraq.

Ankara (AsiaNews) – Iran's chief of staff arrived in Ankara Tuesday for "unprecedented" talks with Turkey's leadership reportedly aimed at narrowing differences on the Syria crisis and coordinating policy on Iraq. Both countries continue to suffer from the violence of the Islamic State (IS) group despite its defeats and territorial losses.

Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps military commander General Mohammad Hossein Bagheri is due to meet Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Defence Minister Nurettin Canikli, and his Turkish counterpart Hulusi Akar during his three-day visit.

In Turkey, pro-government and state-run media gave wide coverage to the visit. The Turkish Daily Sabah, citing diplomatic sources in Ankara, described the meetings as a "milestone" in relations between Iran and Turkey, adding that this would not have been possible unless both sides were willing to make deals on both Syria and Iraq.

For its part, Iran's official IRNA news agency described the visit as "unprecedented" in the history of bilateral relations.

"This trip was necessary for better consultation and cooperation on various military and regional issues," Bagheri was quoted as saying before his departure. He cited border security and the fight against terror as the main issues.

Yet relations between overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim Turkey, a secular state, and the mainly Shia Islamic Republic of Iran have on occasion been tense in the last years.

Erdogan has sometimes lashed out at the rise of "Persian nationalism" in the region, especially in Iraq.

Turkey and Iran lie on opposing sides of the Syrian conflict, with Ankara seeking the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad, allegedly through support of jihadi groups, whilst Tehran is one of Assad’s key allies.

Nevertheless, Turkey and Russia have been cooperating more Syria in recent months, ending the conflict in Aleppo and co-sponsoring peace talks to solve the crisis in Astana (Kazakhstan), which have taken place along with UN-sponsored talks in Geneva, Switzerland.

With its anti-Assad rhetoric toned down, Ankara now appears especially concerned about the presence of the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) in the border area with Syria.

Although an ally of the United States, the YPG is considered by Turkey as terror group and the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has waged a deadly three-decade insurgency in the Turkish southeast.

Both Turkey and Iran have substantial Kurdish minorities and they vehemently oppose a plan by Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region to organise a referendum on independence later this year.

Meanwhile, analysts and experts note that, despite its military setbacks, the Islamic State group still represents a major threat to Syria and Iraq.

The jihadist group "is the illustration – violent, long and complex – of the dystrophy that reigns in Iraq", said Mohammad-Mahmoud Ould Mohamedou, professor of international history at Geneva's Graduate Institute. 

What is more, divisions across political, religious and ethnic lines might give jihadis a boost, said Mathieu Guidere, an expert on jihadist organisations.

In Syria, the picture is even more complicated and the fight goes far beyond the threat of the Islamic State. The challenge to rebuild and stabilise the Arab country will be even greater.

For the Islamic State, "the key words now are reorganisation and redeployment", said Guidere.

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