Iran's chief nuclear negotiator met with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Tuesday, after being surprised to find that no Turkish official was present to greet him at the entrance to the Office of the Prime Ministry.
Iranian negotiator Saeed Jalili arrived in Turkey on Monday and met with Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu on the same day.
He arrived at the Prime Ministry for a meeting with Erdoğan at 11:30 a.m. on Tuesday, but no Turkish official was there to welcome him when he got out of his car. The Iranian ambassador to Turkey accompanying Jalili, who looked surprised, checked his watch twice, and then Jalili entered the building. He was met by an official inside the building, who took him to the meeting room.
The diplomatic snub was, according to some, an act of retaliation for the way Erdoğan was treated during a visit to Tehran earlier this year. During the April visit, the Iranian side postponed at the last minute a scheduled meeting between Erdoğan and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, saying the Iranian leader was ill. The postponement, however, was interpreted by Turkey as a deliberate discourtesy revealing political tensions between the two countries.
Photos from inside the Prime Ministry showed Erdoğan smiling while hugging Jalili.
Relations between Turkey and Iran have been strained by differences over Syria, where President Bashar al-Assad is facing an uprising against his rule. Turkey is one of the harshest critics of Assad, while Iran is a key ally of his embattled regime.
Foreign Minister Davutoğlu, who met Egyptian President Muhammed Morsi ahead of regional talks on the Syria crisis in Cairo on Monday evening, said Iran offers financial backing to the Assad regime. Davutoğlu told Morsi that Iran's support and financial backing of the Syrian regime is well known, presidential spokesman Yasser Ali said.
Turkey, on the other hand, faces accusations from Syria that it is allowing al-Qaeda members and other jihadists to cross into Syria through its territory. Turkey dismissed the accusations, made most recently in formal letters sent by Syria to the UN Security Council and the secretary-general, saying the Syrian regime should first end the use of violence against its own people. Foreign Ministry spokesman Selçuk Ünal said on Tuesday that Turkey may not even respond to the Syrian letter.
Ünal, meanwhile, also revealed that Syria's former Prime Minister Riad Hijab, who defected from Assad's government in August, had met with Foreign Minister Davutoğlu two weeks ago in İstanbul. "We are ready for talks with everyone who wants to meet us on Syria," Ünal told a news briefing.
Jalili visited Turkey for talks predominantly regarding his country's controversial nuclear program, and was due to meet the European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton later in the day in İstanbul for technical talks on the dispute.
Ashton is spearheading nuclear talks with Iran on behalf of the United States, China, Russia, Britain, Germany and France. Without a deal, the stalemate over Iran's nuclear aspirations could boil over into a regional battle that could destabilize oil markets and damage the fragile global economy.
Ashton's meeting with Jalili is “part of continuing efforts to engage with Iran,” after talks between world powers and Iran in Moscow in June failed to secure a breakthrough in the dispute. “While it is not a formal negotiating round, the meeting will be an opportunity to stress once again to Iran the need for an urgent and meaningful confidence-building step,” Ashton's spokeswoman said, adding that it is also important to show more flexibility with proposals put forward by world powers in earlier talks.
Several weeks after the failed Moscow talks, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, “The proposals we have seen from Iran thus far within the P5+1 negotiations are ‘nonstarters.'”
As diplomatic efforts to solve the dispute have stalled, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has gone public with a demand that the United States set “red lines” that Iran not cross at a risk of military action. The United States has refused to set such triggers, though both it and Israel have said they reserve the right to take military action if necessary.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel told a news conference in Berlin that Iran posed a threat not just to Israel but to the whole world, but added, “I support a political solution ... and I believe that we are not at the point where the search for political solutions has been exhausted."