Erdogan welcomes Iran's Raisi to Turkey to discuss Gaza

This is the Iranian leader's first visit to the country since taking office in 2021

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Iranian counterpart Ebrahim Raisi review a guard of honour during a welcome ceremony in Ankara. Reuters
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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan welcomed Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi to Ankara on Wednesday in the leader's first visit to the country since taking office in 2021.

The visit aims to ease tension between the two countries, with the leaders scheduled to discuss relations as well as the war in Gaza, where Israel is intensifying its aerial attacks on the enclave's south.

Mr Raisi said the trip would also focus on economic developments, with Tehran hoping to boost bilateral trade to $30 billion. Mr Raisi and Mr Erdogan will also hold a meeting of top tradesmen and economists from both countries, state outlet IRNA reported.

The Iranian President added that Turkey and Iran share a common stance on Palestine, saying that “lifelines” to Israel must be cut off to stop its attacks on Gaza.

Also on the agenda is the presence of the Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK) in northern Iraq's mountain ranges.

Designated a terrorist group by Ankara, both Turkey and Iran have launched frequent attacks the PKK and exiled Iranian Kurdish groups in the country.

Mr Raisi has twice cancelled planned talks in Turkey, scheduled for November and January, amid the war in Gaza and an ISIS attack on the city of Kerman that killed 94 people.

The twin bombings took place at the tomb of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' Quds Force commander Maj Gen Qassem Suleimani, the architect of Iran's regional proxy activity.

Maj Gen Suleimani was killed in a US air strike at Baghdad International Airport in January 2020.

The two leaders will hold a press conference after the discussions, which will also touch on political and economic matters, Ankara said.

Turkey and Israel made steps to strengthen ties in 2022 after years of frosty relations centred on Ankara's relations with Hamas. However, the war in Gaza has overturned the thaw.

President Isaac Herzog undertook the first visit by an Israeli leader to Turkey since 2008, and Ankara vowed to maintain relations with Israel despite the victory of Benjamin Netanyahu paving the way for its most right-wing government yet.

In November, Ankara recalled its envoy to Israel in light of the “unfolding humanitarian tragedy” in Gaza.

Last week, Israel's Defence Minister Yoav Gallant accused Turkey as acting “as an arm of Hamas” after it detained an Israeli footballer who expressed solidarity with hostages held in Gaza.

Ankara is a staunch supporter of Hamas, and thousands of Turks have taken to the streets to protest against Israel's war in Gaza.

Turkey has taken in injured Gazans for medical treatment, and Mr Erdogan has compared Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Adolf Hitler.

However, Iranian media has reportedly criticised Turkey for maintaining diplomatic ties with Israel as the war in Gaza continues.

Iran's regional proxies are active in the war, with the IRGC also launching strikes on the Iraqi Kurdish capital of Erbil, killing several civilians, including an 11-month-old baby.

Baghdad and Iraqi Kurdish officials have fiercely denied Tehran's claims that its target was a Mossad headquarters.

Other disputes between Tehran and Ankara centre on Iran's support for Armenia and opposing alliances in Syria, but experts say this is overshadowed by the current fighting in Gaza.

“It is possible that Raisi and Erdogan might declare some symbolic measure about Palestine out of the meeting,” Arash Azizi, lecturer at Clemson University, told AFP.

“But I think their focus will be mostly on how to contain the conflict and make sure it doesn't expand further, something that Ankara and Tehran both want.”

Updated: January 24, 2024, 4:12 PM