Iran's military chief visits Ankara for unprecedented talks on Syria, Iraq

Source: Xinhua| 2017-08-16 01:37:44|Editor: yan
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ANKARA, Aug. 15 (Xinhua) -- Iran's military chief of staff has arrived in Ankara for talks with Turkey's leadership reportedly aimed at narrowing differences on the Syria crisis and coordinating policy on Iraq.

General Mohammad Hossein Bagheri is due to meet Defense Minister Nurettin Canikli and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during his three-day visit.

He kicked off the visit Tuesday afternoon by meeting his Turkish counterpart, General Hulusi Akar, in a rare meeting between two such senior military figures in the Turkish capital, the state-run Anadolu news agency said, without providing further details.

Pro-government Turkish newspaper Daily Sabah quoted diplomatic sources as saying the visit was a "milestone" and "would not have been possible unless both sides were willing to make deals on both Syria and Iraq."

Iran's official IRNA news agency meanwhile described the visit as "unprecedented" in the history of bilateral relations amid differences on the Syria crisis.

"It is an important visit indeed and the timing is also very appropriate. Turkey and Iran are two friendly neighboring states which have important influence and interests in the region, politically, economically and culturally," said to Xinhua a Turkish diplomatic source.

Relations between overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim Turkey and the mainly Shia Islamic Republic of Iran have on occasion been tense.

Turkey and Iran are on opposing sides of the Syrian conflict, with Erdogan seeking the toppling of President Bashar al-Assad to end the war and Tehran, along with Moscow, his key remaining ally and backer.

But Turkey, nearly seven years into the civil war in neighboring Syria and after having accepted on its soil some 3,5 million refugees, has changed its hardline tone on an ousting of the Syrian president.

Ankara's main concern actually in Syria is the presence of the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), the armed wing of the Syrian Democratic Union (PYD), along its border.

Ankara considers these groups as terrorists and accuses them of being affiliated to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has waged insurgency since 1984 against Turkish forces in southeast Turkey.

Erdogan hinted recently at a new ground offensive against this Kurdish faction in the lines of a previous incursion in 2016 against jihadist of the Islamic State (IS).

Both Turkey and Iran have significant Kurdish minorities and they oppose a plan by Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region to organize a vote on independence, planned for September 25th.

Both Iran and Turkey have declared that this vote as an "unacceptable move" which could spark more tensions in the already volatile region. The United States, Russia and the central Bagdad administration have also criticized the decision.

Iranian army chief's visit coincides with the building by Turkey of a "security wall" along part of its border with Iran, a 144 km barrier which aims to prevent armed militant infiltrations and drug trafficking.

A similar 700-km-long barrier on the Syrian border is nearing completion and a third one on the Iraqi border is also being considered, according to Turkish officials.