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Tehran says it is trying to ease the tensions that have been growing between Ankara and Moscow since Turkey downed a Russian fighter jet last month, yet some of Iran’s media apparently have been siding with Russia, repeating its contention that Turkey’s leadership was involved in oil trade with the Islamic State (IS).
Ali Akbar Velayati, a senior adviser to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khameni, said it was Tehran’s duty to mediate the tensions between Turkey and Russia because “[i]t is not rightful that tensions to be piled up” in the region.
All three countries oppose the presence of the IS – also called ISIS, ISIL and Daesh – in Syria. Both Turkey, as part of a U.S.-led coalition, and Russia have been striking the group in that country. Yet the goals of all three countries are different: Both Iran and Russia support President Bashar Al Assad as Syria’s legitimate leader; Turkey, like many in the West, believes Assad must step down or be forced out.
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These differences were heightened on Nov. 24 when Turkey shot down a Russian warplane, killing one of the two pilots aboard. Ankara said the fighter jet had entered Turkish air space and ignored Turkish warnings to leave. Russia says the plane never flew within about a half-mile of Turkey’s border. It was the most serious encounter between Russia and a NATO member in a half-century.
Because the incident occurred between two countries with different goals, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said at the time that the incident “sends the wrong message to the terrorists” in Syria.
Since then Russia has accused Turkey’s leadership, including President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and members of his family, of personal involvement in the trade in oil stolen by IS from countries where it is active, making Turkey the group’s chief customer. Erdogan and his government have condemned the accusations as slander.
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And during the past week, some Iranian media, which publishes only with the permission of Tehran’s government, have been repeating these accusations. Erdogan said he spoke of this on Thursday by telephone with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, saying, “You will pay a high price if it continues like that.” He didn’t elaborate.
The Iranian Foreign Ministry urged “mutual politeness and respect,” according to Iranian media. They quoted ministry spokesman Hossein Jaber-Ansari as saying, “The continuation of policies and positions that, wanted or unwanted, have led to the support of terrorism in Syria and Iraq, only escalate the current crisis in the region and increase problems for countries that continue such policies.”
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Turkish foreign ministry spokesman Tanju Bilgic defended his country's behavior throughout the campaign against IS, saying it was guided by “principled policies” as it sought a solution to problems in the region caused by both Assad and IS.
And while he said Turkey is “astonished” that the Iranian media had repeated the Russian accusations against his country’s leadership, he added that Ankara could not take “seriously the terrorism accusations made by the states [Russia and Iran] which led to the escalation of the crisis in cooperation with the Damascus regime.”
By Andy Tully Of Oilprice.com
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Andy Tully is a veteran news reporter who is now the news editor for Oilprice.com