Iran seeks to calm Turkey over missile threats

ISTANBUL/TEHRAN Wed Dec 14, 2011 11:20pm IST

A Turkish military convoy drives down a mountain road in Yemisli, Hakkari province near the Iraqi border in southeastern Turkey October 21 2011. REUTERS/Osman Orsal/Files

A Turkish military convoy drives down a mountain road in Yemisli, Hakkari province near the Iraqi border in southeastern Turkey October 21 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Osman Orsal/Files

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ISTANBUL/TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran's foreign minister has told Turkey that threats by Iranian political and military figures to strike Turkish missile defences if attacked do not represent official policy.

Ties between Turkey and Iran have been sorely tested by an uprising in Syria and Turkey's involvement in NATO's missile shield, which Tehran sees as a U.S. ploy to protect Israel.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu phoned his Iranian counterpart to express unease over recent threats to target Turkey if Iran comes under attack, his ministry said in a statement.

"We have made the necessary warning to those who make irresponsible and senseless statements," Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi told Turkey's state-run Anatolian agency.

"The official view of the Islamic Republic of Iran towards Turkey is based on deep brotherhood and friendship," he said.

Davutoglu, asked later by a reporter in parliament whether Salehi's comments had reduced tensions, said there had never been tension:

"We thank him for his statement. Turkish-Iranian friendship is ancient. It is eternal and nobody can influence it."

Last week, Iranian lawmaker Hossein Ibrahimi said Iran could target Turkey in a future conflict due to its hosting of the NATO defences, which Iran fears could neuter the missiles it might use to strike Israel and U.S. forces in the region if it was attacked.

"Targeting the missile defence shield on Turkish territory would be a certain and natural reaction in the event of any threat emanating from that country," Ibrahimi was quoted as saying in the December 8 edition of the daily Sharq.

Turkey's Foreign Ministry said Salehi had told Davutoglu this was "a personal view and was not in line with the government's position".

INTERNAL TENSIONS

However, last month the semi-official Mehr news agency quoted Amir Ali Hajizadeh, head of the Revolutionary Guards' aerospace division, as saying: "We are ready to attack NATO's missile shield in Turkey if we face a threat.

The fact that Salehi has had to weigh in to calm matters points not only to tensions with Turkey but also to policy divisions within Iran's conservative ruling elite.

The storming of the British embassy by radical youths last month was criticised by Salehi, while parliament speaker Ali Larijani, a rival of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, appeared to support the action, which further soured relations with Europe.

Close advisers to Khamenei have been harshly critical of the secular model of Islamic democracy embodied by Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan.

Khamenei's military adviser said in October that Turkey appeared to be doing Washington's bidding by turning against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Iran's main ally in the region, and called Erdogan's push for secularism in the Arab world "unexpected and unimaginable".

On Wednesday Hassan Rohani, an influential member of the state Expediency Council, was quoted as saying in the daily Farhang-e Ashti that "Turkey is going beyond the limit (in its policy) towards Syria and in supporting the Syrian opposition".

A senior cleric said Turkey's opposition to Assad was playing into a Western plot to regain dominance in the region.

"They (the West) have begun with Syria and will then go to Lebanon and Iraq, and will then come to us which, of course, will not succeed," Grand Ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirazi told the semi-official Fars news agency.

"... America, Israel and Arab countries have joined hands to begin their plot with Syria and in the midst of this, Turkish statesmen are adding fuel to the fire," he said.

(Additional reporting by Hashem Kalantari; Writing by Robin Pomeroy; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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