TEHRAN // Hassan Rouhani arrives in Turkey on Monday in the first visit by an Iranian president since the start of the Syrian civil war, which has strained relations between the two regional powerhouses.
In a bid to repair ties damaged by the conflict, Mr Rouhani plans to sign six agreements during his trip, including pacts on energy and trade.
Tehran is a key supporter of Syrian president Bashar Al Assad while Ankara supports the rebels fighting to depose him. But with the conflict now deadlocked in its fourth year and Mr Rouhani elected last summer promising to end Iran’s isolation, both Tehran and Ankara are looking to improve their relationship.
“The two countries’ need for each other is reciprocal because of their relationship as neighbours,” said Hassan Beheshtipour, a Tehran-based analyst. “They realised that they couldn’t ignore each other as they are the two leading regional powers, despite having different points of view in their policies.”
Another point of friction is Iraq, where Tehran has influence over the central government in Baghdad, while Ankara has close ties with the Kurdish authorities in energy-rich northern Iraq. Tensions increased after the Kurds exported their first major oil shipment via Turkey last month without the consent of Baghdad.
Turkey’s plans to host an early warning radar system, part of Nato’s missile defence system, also, escalated tensions. Many speculated that the decision led to the cancellation of former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s planned trip to Turkey in December 2012.
Mr Rouhani is scheduled to meet his Turkish counterpart, Abdullah Gul, and prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan during his two-day trip.
He will also attend the first meeting of the Supreme Strategic Cooperation Council, a joint board formed with the goal of improving bilateral cooperation.
Before Mr Rouhani’s visit, Mahmoud Vaezi, an Iranian government minister and the president’s special aide to Turkey, visited Ankara and discussed cooperation in the energy sector.
Turkey imports 10 billion cubic metres per year of natural gas from Iran.
Turkey is seen by Iran as a conduit to export oil and natural gas to Europe and energy negotiations will be among the main discussion points between Mr Rouhani and Turkey’s leaders.
“Turkish officials were interested in increasing natural gas imports from the Islamic Republic,” Mr Vaezi said.
In January, during a visit by Mr Erdogan to Tehran, the two countries announced that they aim to more than double their annual trade volume to $30 billion (Dh110.1bn) next year from $14.6bn last year.
The total annual trade between Iran and Turkey peaked at $21.9bn in 2012, but declined because of international sanctions on Iran over its nuclear programme and a breakdown in relations.
The last official visit by an Iranian president to Turkey was by Mr Ahmadinejad in 2008.