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Meeting In Tehran, Iranian And Turkish Presidents Stress Opposition To Kurdish State

Iranian President Hassan Rohani (right) shakes hands with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Tehran on October 4.

The presidents of Iran and Turkey say their countries will take steps to ensure that borders in the region remain unchanged following last week’s independence referendum in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region.

"We will not accept changing borders in the region," Iranian President Hassan Rohani said in Tehran on October 4 at a joint news conference with his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

"Turkey, Iran, and Iraq have no choice but to take serious and necessary measures to protect their strategic goals in the region," he also said.

He did not elaborate.

'Illegitimate' Referendum

Election authorities in Iraq’s Kurdish region say the September 25 nonbinding referendum passed with 92.7 percent support and turnout of more than 72 percent.

Along with the Baghdad government, the United States and other Western powers, and the United Nations opposed the vote, as did neighboring Turkey and Iran, which have large Kurdish populations.

But Kurdish leaders have said they will use the referendum to press for talks on eventually forming their own state.

Calling the referendum "illegitimate," Erdogan said that "a development of this sort will isolate the Kurdish regional government."

"From this moment onward, more decisive steps will be taken," he added. "As Iran and Turkey -- and the [Iraqi] central government -- there are still heavier steps for us to take."

Baghdad has demanded that the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) cancel the result of the referendum or face continued sanctions, international isolation, and possible military intervention.

The Iraqi government has already imposed sanctions on Kurdish banks and halted foreign currency transfers to the region, and a flight ban has halted all international flights from servicing the Iraqi Kurdish territory's airports.

Amid tensions over the referendum, the Iraqi military has also held joint military drills with the armed forces of Turkey and Iran close to Iraq’s frontiers.

Russian Reticence

Also on October 4, in Moscow, President Vladimir Putin said that Russia is not interfering with the Kurdish referendum issue to prevent the situation from spinning out of control.

The Kremlin has not explicitly condemned the referendum, stressing instead the importance of maintaining Iraq's territorial integrity.

"Our statements are rather careful and cautious since we don't want to aggravate or blow up the situation," Putin told an energy forum.

However, he said that he understands how sensitive the Kurdish issue is for Turkey and Iran.

Erdogan is also scheduled to meet Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei during his visit to the country.

At the press conference with the Turkish president, Rohani said "Turkey will import more gas from Iran" and that "meetings will be held next week to discuss the details."

Erdogan said that the goal of raising bilateral trade volume from $10 billion to $30 billion a year remains on the agenda. He added that the two neighbors would conduct trade in their own currencies to limit foreign exchange pressures.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, and Interfax