Turkey says won’t allow a fresh ring of fire in ME amid US-Iran tension
Turkey has urged all the parties to refrain from throwing the already unstable Middle East, particularly Iraq, into a fresh ring of fire and underlined that it will work with Russia to defuse the regional tension after Iran’s strike against U.S. bases in Iraq.
“Nobody has the right to throw the entire region, especially Iraq, into a ring of fire for the sake of his or her own interests,” President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said at a ceremony for the inauguration of the TurkStream natural gas pipeline in Istanbul with the participation of Russian President Vladimir Putin on Jan. 8.
Erdoğan’s statement came after Iran attacked two U.S. military bases in Iraq with ballistic missiles in retaliation against the killing of its senior commander Qassem Soleimani on Jan. 3. There are concerns that the U.S. would hit back at Iran in retaliation, a move that could start a war between the two countries in the Middle Eastern theater.
The tension between Turkey’s ally - the U.S. - and its neighbor Iran has reached an unwanted level, Erdoğan stressed.
“We will use all the means available to prevent our region from bursting into tears and bloodshed,” he said.
“Our purpose is to de-escalate and to let common sense prevail again. At this critical moment where the war drums play, we want to de-escalate tension by using all the diplomatic channels,” he added.
Erdoğan said he agreed with Putin to stay in close contact so that Turkey and Russia can work together to defuse the tension in the region. He also recalled that Turkish diplomacy will continue to be active in the period ahead to avoid further de-stabilization of the region.
“As Turkey, we do not want Iraq, Syria, Lebanon or the Gulf region, where more than 30 percent of maritime energy trade takes place, to become battlegrounds for wars of tutelage,” he stressed, drawing attention to the fragile situation of Iraq. The Turkish president highlighted the importance of keeping the stability of Iraq and vowed that Turkey will continue to stay with the Iraqi people in this difficult time.
“The security of our Iraqi Turkmen brothers and sisters is also as important to us as the security of our own citizens. The entire Iraqi people, be it Arab, Kurd, Turkmen, Shiite or Sunni, are our brothers and sisters. As Turkey, we have highlighted on various occasions our sensitivity on this issue,” he said.
“Nobody has strength left to pay new prices in this geography,” he stated, recalling that the region has been suffering from turmoil and conflicts for the last 30 years.
Putin, for his part, has refrained from talking about the tension between Iran and the U.S. directly but said: “We are living in a difficult world. Unfortunately, there are some acts that aim to escalate tension in our region. But Turkey and Russia present a very different example.”
Erdoğan and Putin held bilateral talks
The two presidents, Erdoğan and Putin, held bilateral talks right before and after the TurkStream gas pipeline ceremony where they discussed the recent developments in the Middle East, Syria and Libya.
The two countries’ foreign and defense ministers, as well as other senior officials, were present at the meeting.
Apart from the ongoing tension between the U.S. and Iran, the Turkish and Russian delegations have reviewed the latest developments in Syria’s Idlib province in the aftermath of an intensified attack by the Syrian regime forces. They also exchanged views on Libya where Turkey and Russia support two rival camps.
Although Turkey and Russia have differing views on some issues, Erdoğan stressed that “They did not allow these disagreements to override joint bilateral interests.”
With TurkStream, Russian gas passes through the Black Sea to Turkey. Together, the two 930-kilometer (578-mile) lines under the Black Sea, along with the Russian and Turkish onshore pipes, have the capacity to carry 31.5 billion cubic meters (1.1 trillion cubic feet) of natural gas annually.
From Turkey, Russian gas will reach southern and southeastern Europe through new and existing lines. Turkstream has already begun transporting gas but the two leaders will turn a symbolic valve in the ceremony.
While the first line will carry 15.75 billion cubic meters of Russian gas to Turkish consumers, the second line will carry another 15.75 billion cubic meters of gas to Europe via Turkey.
BOTAŞ built the first line that will connect to Turkey’s existing gas grid, while the second line, to be operated by a Gazprom-BOTAŞ joint venture, will stretch to the Turkish-European border in Turkey's Thrace region.
Erdoğan and Putin talk and meet often, cooperating on trade, energy and defense industries. Their close partnership is a dramatic reversal from 2015, when diplomatic relations hit rock bottom with Turkey's downing of a Russian fighter jet along the border with Syria.
Their increased cooperation has worried Turkey's NATO allies, especially with Moscow's delivery of the S-400 Russian-made missile defense system to a base near Ankara over the summer.