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Turkish president visits Iran despite tensions with Tehran over Yemeni crisis

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TEHRAN, Iran — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Iran Tuesday amid deep differences between the two nations over the conflicts in Yemen and Syria.

Erdogan has publicly backed the Saudi-led airstrike campaign targeting Shiite rebels who have overrun the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, and forced the Western-backed president to flee the country. Iran, which backs the rebels but denies any military support, has repeatedly called for an end to the coalition campaign.

The two nations are also on opposite sides of the Syrian civil war. Iran strongly supports Syrian President Bashar Assad, including direct military aid, while Turkey openly seeks regime change in Damascus. Last month, Erdogan lashed out at Iran, accusing it of trying to "dominate the region."

On Tuesday, Erdogan and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani downplayed their differences.

"We had a comprehensive discussion about Yemen," Rouhani said in comments broadcast live on Iranian state television. "We had common points; we have to witness the end of war and bloodshed in Yemen as soon as possible."

Rouhani again called for an end to the Saudi-led airstrike campaign in Yemen — now in its 13th day — and called for all Middle Eastern countries to "fight terrorism and extremism" together.

Erdogan said, "the region is burning in a fire," and called for a comprehensive regional approach to end the crises in Yemen, Iraq and Syria.

"We discussed Iraq, 100 thousand people were killed there ... So far, more than 300 thousand were killed in Syria. All were Muslim. We do not know who is killing who," Erdogan said. "We have to get united and block the killing and bloodshed. We have to bring those who are fighting each other together and we can reach a conclusion."

Officials from both countries signed eight new agreements for economic, commercial and industrial cooperation. Trade between the nations currently amounts to about $14 billion per year, mostly Iranian goods and petroleum products sold to Turkey, and both presidents said they would like to increase that number to around $30 billion annually. Erdogan also requested that Tehran reduce the prices of the natural gas it exports to Turkey.

Later on Tuesday, Erdogan met Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has final say on all state matters. Khamenei said Iran opposes foreign intervention in any country including Yemen.

"From our point of view, stopping air strikes and foreign intervention against the Yemeni people is the solution there," he said.

Khamenei said Iran is open to an exchange of views on how to solve the region's problem. But he added a harsh rebuke of the "treason" of unnamed Muslim governments who he said are complicit in attacks on other Muslim nations.

"Governments of some Islamic countries commit treason and put their money and capabilities in the service of the enemy," Khamenei said.

He did not elaborate.

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