Turkish Defense Minister Nurettin Canikli and the U.S. Secretary of State James Mattis discussed the issue of Iran’s “malign influence in the region” on Aug. 23, according to a statement released from the Pentagon.
Mattis and Canikli discussed the topic during the former’s visit to Ankara, where he also held talks with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
“They [Canikli and Mattis] discussed the need for an ongoing open and honest dialogue, the importance of the territorial integrity of Syria and Iraq, and concern over Iran’s malign influence in the region,” the statement read, as it didn’t provide further details on what the contents of the discussion regarding Tehran was.
Two days prior to Mattis’s visit, Erdoğan said a joint military operation with Iran against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in the Kandil region in northern Iraq is on the agenda.
“Taking joint action with Iran is always on the agenda,” Erdoğan told reporters on Aug. 21.
His words came after Iranian Chief of General Staff Maj. Gen. Mohamed Bagheri paid a three-day visit to Ankara, meeting his Turkish counterpart Gen. Hulusi Akar.
Erdoğan said the PKK posed threats to both countries, and Iranian and Turkish officials discussed the struggle against the PKK and its Iranian branch, the Party of Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK), during Bagheri’s visit.
“The work will continue. As you know, the PKK terror organization has a foot in Iran. It has always caused harm to Iran and to us. We work because we believe if the two countries cooperate, we can get results in a much shorter period of time,” Erdoğan said, while not offering further details on the timing or scope of the operation, and did not say where the operation would be focused.
“We have not planned any operations outside Iran’s borders. But as always, we will strongly confront any group, team or person who wants to penetrate Iran’s territory for anti-security or terrorist operations,” said a statement on Aug. 22 from Iran’s Revolutionary Guards published by the Iranian Students’ News Agency (ISNA).
According to the Pentagon, the defense ministers “reaffirmed their shared resolve in defeating” the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
In the meeting between Erdoğan and Mattis, meanwhile, “regional security and strategy” was discussed.
“Secretary Mattis expressed commitment to the bilateral relationship. He also addressed Turkey’s legitimate security concerns. Both expressed a shared interest for the two countries to create conditions for a more stable and secure region,” said the Pentagon’s statement.
Details of the meeting emerged on Aug. 23, with the U.S.’s ongoing support for the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in the fight against ISIL dominating the agenda.
Erdoğan reportedly expressed unease over increasing armed support from the U.S. to the YPG fighters, who Ankara sees as being closely linked to the PKK.
The “joint struggle” against the PKK in northern Iraq and cooperation on the defense industry were also reportedly on the agenda with the parties agreeing on closer cooperation between security units on the issue.