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Iran and Turkey agree to increase military cooperation

Turkish military Chief of Staff Hulusi Akar and his Iranian counterpart Gen. Mohammed Baqeri review the guard of honor during a welcoming ceremony in Ankara. (Reuters)
ANKARA: Following a series of talks in Ankara this week between Iranian military officers and Turkish civilian and military leaders, Turkey and Iran have agreed to strengthen their military cooperation.
This will include sharing counter-terrorism intelligence, conducting operational cooperation and the exchange of cadets between the two armies.
In the first ever visit to Turkey by the head of Iran’s army since 1979, Iranian Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Mohammed Baqeri met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, military Chief of Staff Hulusi Akar and Defense Minister Nurettin Canikli.
The visit will be followed soon by the visit of Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, Turkish officials announced.
Iran and Turkey, having a significant Kurdish population within their borders, currently cooperate on regional concerns and sensitivities, especially regarding the Kurdish independence referendum of Northern Iraq scheduled for Sept. 25. Both countries have fought Kurdish separatist groups for many years — Iran fighting the PJAK and Turkey the PKK.
Both countries want a power broker role in war-torn Syria — both worried about the possible repercussions of the continued conflict and how it could affect regional stability.
Although on the opposite sides of the Syrian conflict, Ankara and Tehran cooperate on peace talks and have helped the evacuation of civilians from Aleppo, while also sharing concerns over the rise of radical fighters in Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib.
Along with Russia, they have tried to gather the Syrian regime and opposition forces in Astana, the Kazakhstan capital, to negotiate a political transition in the country.
Turkey is currently building a 90-mile wall along its border with Iran to prevent Kurdish militants from entering.
The timing of the visit is telling with the region going through dramatic changes in terms of security, requiring coordination between regional actors.
Prof. Mehmet Seyfettin Erol, head of the Ankara Center for Crisis and Policy Studies (ANKASAM), said the decision taken by Turkey and Iran to share intelligence demonstrated the magnitude of the common threat that both states face.
“Intelligence sharing also comprehends an important message concerning the depth and dimension of conciliatory relations in the future,” Erol told Arab News.
“The intelligence sharing activity carried out with numerous countries and now initiated with Iran showcase the ... shift in Ankara’s foreign policy.”
Erol noted that both states are bidding to eliminate the threat by consuming the struggles between them and pursuing Syria and Iraq-focused policies.
“In this regard, it is important to preserve the status quo in the region and to obstruct non-regional actors from their quest of establishing a ‘Greater Kurdistan’. Hence Syria functions as the beginning of an experiment,” he added.
According to Erol, this experience may later be expanded and institutionalized between the two countries as it has been done before through Saadabat and Baghdad Pacts in the past.

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