World / Middle East

Iranian spy scandal complicates strained ties

(Xinhua) Updated: 2012-09-05 09:40

ANKARA - An Iranian spy network in Turkey, exposing in the wake of a court case Friday in Turkey's northeastern province of Erzurum, have sunk the relations between Ankara and Tehran to a new low.

Seven people accused of having ties to Iranian intelligence services were detained Friday by a Turkish court in Erzurum, amid an ebb-tide period of ties between the two rival powers in the Middle East, which are already at odds with over what to do on Syria.

The suspects were arrested in Turkey's northeastern province of Igdir, following a year-long investigation by the Turkish police at the border with Iran.

The leak of the case, kept from the public for over a year, has dealt a new blow on the strained ties between the two neighbors.

On Monday night, Turkish TVs aired a video footage of what seems to be a covert surveillance shots by the police, showing that three Iranian intelligence agents talking with an informant over sensitive military information.

Part of the footage also displayed an Iranian agent talking to two militants belonging to the outlawed Kurdish Workers' Party ( PKK), listed as terror organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union (EU).

The spy scandal came on the heels of increased harsh rhetoric traded recently by senior officials from both sides. Tehran accuses Ankara of supporting the Syrian opposition while Ankara criticizes Iran for standing by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Turkish officials also said evidence pointed out that Iran has started providing support to PKK militants, a claim that was denied by Tehran.

Besides, Ankara is concerned about sectarian tilt toward Iran in neighboring Iraq whose Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is said to be closely coordinating with Tehran in sidelining Sunni Arab politicians while consolidating his sectarian power base.

On the other hand, Tehran is alarmed by Turkey's recent decision to deploy NATO-backed radar installation on its soil as part of the alliance-wide missile shield system, which Iranian officials said is threatening Iran's interests in the region.

In spite of the strained ties, Turkey's dependence on Iran for natural gas supply and Iran's growing reliance on Turkey for economic outlet amid international sanctions are expected to limit the damages done to the relations between the neighbors.

According to Turkish government data, in the first seven months of this year, Turkey's exports to Iran have skyrocketed to $8 billion, up from $2 billion in the same period last year.

Analysts say Turkey and Iran will set to clash further before coming to a new understanding on ties. They have done it in the past and will do it again, many here in Turkey believe.

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