Turkish President President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Wednesday vowed to take “decisive action” against leaders in Iraqi Kurdistan over last week’s historic independence referendum vote.
Both leaders declined to provide specifics on what types of actions either Ankara or Tehran could take against the semi-autonomous region in northern Iraq, instead telling reporters that other regional powers must stand with Iran and Turkey to prevent the disintegration of the Iraqi state.
“As far as we are concerned, Iraq is one single country. We do not accept any geographical changes,” Mr. Rouhani said during a joint press conference with Mr. Erdogan in Tehran. The Turkish president was in Iran as part of a diplomatic visit focusing on the regional response to the Kurdish referendum vote in Iraq.
Mr. Erdogan called the Sept. 25 vote, which could pave the way for members of the Kurdish Regional Government to secede from Iraq over the next two years, “an illegitimate referendum” threatening regional stability in the Middle East.
“From this moment forward, more decisive steps will be taken,” he added, which could include a shutdown of the Turkish-Iraqi border and a increased military buildup on the Turkish side of the line.
While in opposition to an independent Iraqi Kurdistan, Mr. Rouhani took a softer approach to efforts by Irbil, saying Tehran “does not mean any harm” to Iraqi Kurds despite its objections to the referendum.
“The people of Iraqi Kurdistan are our good neighbors, are our dear brothers. We do not want them to experience any pressure. We do not wish to exert this pressure,” Mr. Rouhani said.
Both leaders’ comments come days after military leaders in Ankara and Tehran agreed to expand military cooperation between Iran and Turkey, including large-scale war games and joint counterterrorism operations. Iranian Armed Forces Maj. Gen. Mohammad Hossein Baqeri and Turkish Chief of General Staff Hulusi Akar announced the plans during a press conference in Tehran, after bilateral talks between the two general officers on Monday.
“We held talks on the common threats [Iran and Turkey], and also on the referendum in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region with an emphasis on the maintenance of Iraq’s integrity and rejection of the referendum,” Gen. Baqeri told reporters at the time.
Washington is also vehemently opposed to the Kurdish referendum, with the White House claiming it would derail ongoing efforts to drive Islamic State terror group out of Syria and northern Iraq.
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