Turkey to bolster trade ties with Iran, says PM Erdogan

ANKARA - Turkey will bolster its trade ties with neighboring Iran by speeding up the implementation process of a preferential trade agreement signed in January, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Monday.

"We had set a goal during my visit to Iran in January: to raise the trade between the two countries to $30 billion by 2015," Erdogan told a joint press conference with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in the Turkish capital, Ankara.

Erdogan said the trade between Turkey and Iran stood at $22 billion in 2012 before dipping to $14.5 billion in the following year due to economic sanctions imposed on Tehran.

"As part of our endeavor to fix this, we have reaffirmed the necessity of forming a High Council of Strategic Cooperation and establishing a preferential trade zone between the two countries," he said.

Trade volume between Turkey and Iran stood at $3.2 billion in the first quarter, according to Turkey's official statistics office.

For his part, Iranian President Rouhani said Erdogan and himself exchanged views on bilateral ties and regional developments.

Calling on Turkish businessmen to invest in Iran's railways and ports, he said Iran and Turkey reached agreements to boost cooperation in energy, transportation, tourism and banking.

Asked whether he congratulated Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for his victory in presidential elections, Rouhani said: "Yes, I sent him a congratulation letter."

Turkey and Iran split in opinions over Syria with Iran being an ally of the Syrian regime while Turkey being one of its fiercest critics.

"[The election] was the first step for stability and peace (...) Syrian people are entitled to decide the future of Syria," Rouhani said. 

Denounced by some Western countries and Turkey as "farce," last week's presidential poll saw Assad winning a landslide third term in office amid ongoing civil war.

On another question whether his visit would help Turkey buy cheaper gas from Iran, Rouhani said they discussed the issue and relevant ministers of both countries would continue negotiations. 

Iran is the most expensive gas supplier of Turkey, which imports most of its 10 billion cubic meters of natural gas per year from Russia.

Copyright © 2014 Anadolu Agency