Hassan Rouhani, the Iranian president, has said that, Turkey and Iran are two important countries in the Islamic world and determined to stand against violence and extremism in the Middle East.
Rouhani said the words on a two-day visit to Turkey to discuss energy and trade ties as well as the Syrian crisis which has strained relations between the two neighbours in the recent years.
The two countries are at odds over Syria, with Iran being a strong strategic ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad since the start of the uprising against him in 2011, while Turkey has been one of his fiercest critics, supporting his opponents and giving refuge to rebel fighters.
In a joint press conference with Rouhani, Abdullah Gul, the Turkish president, said that they discussed political, economic and cultural relations.
Gul said that the two countries have a trade volume of $15bn dollars between the two countries with the target of $30bn.
He also said that no country should possess nuclear weapons in the Middle East.
“We want a Middle East without nuclear weapons,” he said, however, expressing support for use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.
Rouhani calls for stability
In his remarks, Rouhani said that money flow between countries will continue. He also called on all countries in the region to put effort in achieving stability.
Rouhani repeated the Turkish leader’s stance, saying that the regioin should be free of all weapons of mass destruction, but peaceful use of nuclear energy should be free.
|Al Jazeera’s Zeine Khodr reports from Ankara on Rouhani’s visit to Turkey|
Last year the election of Rouhani, whose foreign policy of “prudence and moderation” has eased Iran’s international isolation. The visit will be the first by an Iranian president to Turkey since 2008.
The visit comes as Iran and six major powers prepare to hold another round of talks on a final deal aimed at ending a decade-old dispute over the country’s nuclear programme.
A preliminary deal was signed in Geneva, Switzerland, in November, under which Iran accepted to halt some sensitive nuclear activities in exchange for partial easing of sanctions.
While deep divisions remain between the two countries over the conflict in Syria, the potential of an Iranian market of 76 million people with some of the world’s biggest oil and gas reserves is a magnet for Turkish companies.
During Erdogan’s visit to Iran in January, a preferential trade agreement was signed aimed at paving the ground to boost trade to $30bn by 2015.
Reuters news agency cited Iranian officials as saying that trade between the countries stood at $22bn in 2012, before dipping to $20bn in 2013, and that it should reach $30bn in 2015.
Gold and silver
Iran was Turkey’s third largest export market in 2012. Iranian media said that Turkey exported more than 20,000 products to Iran, among them gold and silver.
The US has been unhappy over continued trade with Iran by its Turkish ally and has blacklisted some Turkish firms involved in sidestepping the sanctions, imposed on Iran over its disputed nuclear programme.
Cooperation agreements will be signed in various fields, including the energy sector, during Rouhani’s visit, Iranian and Turkish media said.
Under a contract signed in 1996, Turkey imports 10bn cubic metres per year of natural gas from Iran. The contract became active in 2001. Turkey pays the bill through gold transfers as a result of the US’ sanctions on Iran.
Iran has so far dismissed Turkish demands to drop the price of gas under the current agreement, saying that Iran could sell more natural gas to its energy-hungry neighbour if a new agreement was signed.
Taner Yildiz, Turkish energy minister, told Reuters in an interview on January 30 that Turkey could double the amount of natural gas it imports from Iran if the two countries could agree on a price.
Turkey depends on imports for almost all of its gas needs.