President Abdullah Gul and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's lack of attendance at the inauguration ceremony of new Iranian President Hassan Rohani has raised question marks in the minds of many amid strained relations between the two countries over Syria.
Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu went to Tehran on Sunday instead to attend the inauguration of the new Iranian president on behalf of Gul. Heads of state as well as senior officials from more than 50 countries watched the new president take his oath. Some 10 presidents, six parliamentary speakers, two prime ministers and 11 foreign ministers from various countries attended the ceremony, according to Iranian Embassy officials in Ankara.
According to the Turkish Radikal daily, Davutoglu said no special meaning should be assigned to his representation of the president for the inauguration ceremony and that it is not possible to designate the level of attendance because there weren't any earlier examples of the ceremony. However, this being the first time that foreign dignitaries attended the swearing in of an Iranian president, Turkey's attendance as Iran's neighbor is important for bilateral relations with the new presidency.
Iran did not host representatives of other countries during the inauguration ceremonies of its previous presidents, including Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Mohammed Hatemi. The Turkish foreign minister's representation of Turkey on behalf of Gul was perceived by many as Turkey taking a stance against Iran's new presidency because among the other attendees were presidents, heads of state and prime ministers.
An official from the Office of the President said President Gul did not have any official plans for Sunday that were known to the press that kept him from attending the inauguration ceremony. However, it is known that Prime Minister Erdogan attended the first test run of the Marmaray undersea rail project on Sunday.
Middle East analyst Arif Keskin says Turkey's attendance at the foreign minister level is a sign of its "precautionary approach" to the new Iranian President Rohani.
"The attendance of the foreign minister [at the inauguration ceremony] is a sign of deteriorating relations with Iran after the Syrian [civil war] issue. Turkey and Iran have been standing on different sides on Iraq and Syria and Turkey sees Iran's support as the main reason behind Bashar al-Assad still holding onto the presidency," Keskin told Today's Zaman.
Regarding Iran arranging a ceremony for the first time for its new president and calling representatives of foreign countries, Keskin thinks that the ceremony pointed to the improvement of international relations for Iran and was aimed at showing that Iran isn't alienated in the international arena.
"Iran had fundamental problems with the international community before Rohani became president. Rohani set forth to boost international relations and the ceremony was conducted to show the country's good political relations with foreign countries. That's why Turkey's attendance at the foreign minister level probably didn't make the Iranians happy," said Keskin, stressing that Turkey didn't meet the expectations of its neighbor. "If Turkey had presented itself at the presidential or prime ministerial level, this would surely have made Iran gain much more political prestige," he added.
However, Numan Hazar, a retired ambassador and Turkey's permanent delegate to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), says Turkey places importance on its alliance and friendship with Iran and does not see Gul skipping the inauguration as a political stance.
"We may have some differences of opinion with Iran but Iran's friendship is necessary for us as they are our neighbor. We are the ones who are going to live with Iran for centuries, so Davutoglu's participation at the event was valuable [for our relation with Iran]," Hazar told Today's Zaman.
On the issue of Gul not attending the event, the retired ambassador entertained the possibility of the Turkish president's health problems. Gul underwent ear surgery in mid-July this year. However, this does not prevent him from flying as he went to İstanbul after the Supreme Military Council (YAŞ) meeting in Ankara on Saturday.
Former Ambassador to Iran Bozkurt Aran also drew attention to the balance in bilateral relations with Iran and said that Turkey has always maintained a dialogue with its neighbor.
"Who attended or who didn't attend the inauguration ceremony is not important to Iran. Iran always has weight in the region. Arranging a ceremony for its new president doesn't mean that it was forming a foreign policy," said Aran in a telephone interview with Today's Zaman, stating that Iran does not place importance on such ceremonies.