The Turks, the Supreme Leader, and the Iranian people
Turkish prime minister Erdogan flew back home Wednesday evening after a 2-day visit to Tehran. It was a big deal in all senses of the term. He went to Iran with a large delegation, including three ministers, many businessmen, leaders of Parliament, scads of reporters, and television crews. He met with Iranian Foreign Minister Mottaki, “President” Ahmadinejad, and other ministers. According to Iranians who were involved in the meetings, the two countries reached agreement on many issues, the upshot of which is a considerable tightening of the working alliance between them:
–The creation of a joint airline;
–The creation of a free trade zone along the border;
–Turkish investment (to the tune of some $4 billion) in the Pars field in southern Iran;
–Agreement that each would permit the other’s currency to circulate (a real winner for Iran, whose currency was previously not acceptable in Turkey);
–Favorable prices to the Turks for Iranian oil and natural gas (I am told that the Iranians promised a 50% reduction of market rates! Seems preposterous to me, but we shall see). The Iranians are not known for strictly honoring such deals, but the Turks are entitled to be pleased at any significant reduction;
--A joint power plant of some six thousand kilowatts, to be constructed as soon as possible, powered by (Iranian) natural gas;
One of the most intriguing aspects of the Erdogan visit was the dog that did not bark, namely the failure of any early meeting with Supreme Leader Khamenei. It was widely reported that such a meeting would take place; see here , here , here , and here, for example. But as of early afternoon Wednesday, there was not even a quasi-official claim that Erdogan saw Khamenei, not even the sort of “virtual evidence” of Khamenei’s ability to rule that had been put out in recent weeks (a couple of days ago, the web site of the press service ISNA came up with an alleged speech to Hajj pilgrims, but when it turned out to be nearly a year old, it was quickly taken down, as was a reference to “archive photos” of meetings with Senegalese President Wade). I therefore earlier concluded that Khamenei was not well enough for a meeting with Erdogan.
But Khamenei did indeed meet with Erdogan, at the very last minute. The Turkish convoy diverted to the Supreme Leader's residence en route to the airport, and there was a meeting there, down the hall from the doctors, involving the top members of the Turkish delegation, and both Foreign Minister Mottaki and Ali Larijani from the National Security Council of Iran, in addition to the two principals. The meeting lasted 47 minutes, and Khamenei took the occasion to denounce America as the cause of all the region's problems. Interestingly, he also talked about the future of Iraq, calling on the Turks to join with Iran and Syria to drive Iraq toward an Islamic Republic. There are photographs and films of the meeting, all genuine so far as I can tell.