Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the importance of relations between the two countries.

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan played soccer professionally after he graduated from university, and also worked for Istanbul’s transportation authority. He entered politics full time in 1994, being elected Mayor of Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality. In August 2001 he founded the Justice and Development Party (AK Party), and the party was swept to power shortly after in the 2002 general elections. In 2003 he became the Prime Minister, replacing Abdullah Gül.

Turkey and Iran are the representatives of two deep-rooted and neighboring civilizations. These two countries have centuries and even millennia-long connections with each other. This connection, this friendship between the two cultures rests upon the caravans of camels through which trade was realized between Persia and Anatolia for centuries. In fact, the economic relations between our two countries are even older than the history of many countries that exist on the world map today. The common 380-kilometer-long boundary between Turkey and Iran functions as a factor that strengthens our togetherness and solidarity. Our common values in culture and civilization, ranging from Mevlana and Omar Khayyam to Fuzuli and Shahriar, do not allow the boundaries between us to act as a barrier.

Eras and generations have changed, unrests and turbulences have occurred, and yet none of them have interrupted the commercial and cultural interactions between Turkey and Iran.

However, the level of economic cooperation between the two countries is far from satisfactory and sufficient. Today, the volume of trade between Iran and Turkey is just $10 billion. Through our mutual visits, the two governments have set the goal of increasing this figure to $30 billion in the upcoming five years as a medium-term target. Now, it is time to realize this target, and it is time to take action. If we cannot achieve this, then there is an Iranian saying: “They sat down, they talked, and they dispersed." As the Prime Minister of Turkey, I would be disappointed if any of my Iranian friends said that about us. Therefore, my government and the Iranian government, in cooperation with our business communities, are doing everything to realize this plan.

Iran and Turkey live in a difficult geography. Both of our countries have boundaries with unstable regions such as the Caucasus, Iraq, and Afghanistan. In this difficult geography, both of our countries are symbols of peace, security, and stability. Both countries aim to foster this stability and peace in the whole region of the Near East, and improving the economic and other forms of relationship between the two countries is the best way to contribute to this process. The more interaction is realized peacefully between these two large states in the region, the more stable the whole region will become.

Our two countries hold utmost importance for each other. Both countries' geographies are strategically important, and we have to find a way to benefit from this advantage. As we are the bridge for Iran toward Europe, Iran is our bridge to Asia. Thus, the destinies of our two countries to increase ties with the rest of the world are bound together.

As the Prime Minister of Turkey, I would like to suggest to my Iranian friends that they should not be afraid of the liberalization of trade and the removal of tariffs, quotas, and other forms of trade barriers. Turkey has been through this process. Many people in Turkey were against the Customs Union with the European Economic Community when Turkey and Europe were mutually opening up their boundaries to each other in 1996. Yet, we trusted the strength of our people, and we relied on the competitive ability of our industrialists. Nowadays, in many houses of Europe, people are using televisions, washing machines, and refrigerators made in Turkey. This is a huge source of pride for Turkey. As a result of the Customs Union, both Turkey and Europe won. Turkey has gained a lot of self-confidence. There is nothing to be afraid of regarding the liberalization of trade and the removal of trade barriers.

Now, it is time to build these mechanisms of free and unhindered trade between Turkey and Iran. By putting a preferential trade agreement into practice, I am sure that we can realize the target of $30 billion in a smooth manner and both countries will benefit.

One other thing both Turkey and Iran have to accomplish to reach that target is to break the power of the bureaucratic oligarchies in both countries. They exist in Turkey and I know they exist in Iran. Yet, bureaucrats are accountable to the people. If you do not follow up on them, they will not do what they have to do. To increase the volume of trade between our countries, we have to make it easier and this is only possible through breaking the power of the bureaucratic oligarchies. I know the Iranian government will put a lot of effort into achieving that, just as we have.

The centuries of relations between our two countries, our two civilizations, and our two geographies will take a new direction, and we are very excited about that. We know there are things to do to foster this new direction, and we are very much ready to undertake them.

Exclusive to TBY based on the Prime Minister's speech at the Foreign Economic Relations Board's Turkey-Iran Business Forum, Istanbul 2010.