ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday that countries opposed to Iran’s atomic programme should give up their own nuclear weapons and attacked as ‘arrogant’ the sanctions imposed on Ankara’s neighbour.
He also said he wanted the Middle East, and then the whole world, to rid itself of nuclear weapons.
During a trip to Iran this week, Erdogan said he backed Tehran’s “right to peaceful nuclear energy” and called its approach in nuclear talks with Western powers “positive.”
The trip added to Western concern that NATO’s only Muslim member may be shifting its foreign-policy focus towards the Islamic world and turning its back on Western allies.
Iran says the sole aim of its nuclear programme is to generate electricity, but Western powers suspect it of secretly planning to produce nuclear weapons and are trying to persuade it to stop enriching uranium.
“... those who criticise Iran’s nuclear programme continue to possess the same weapons,” said Erdogan, according to an advance copy, carried by state-run Anatolian news agency, of a televised address he will make at 8 p.m. (1800 GMT).
“I think that those who take this stance, who want these arrogant sanctions, need to first give these (weapons) up. We shared this opinion with our Iranian friends, our brothers.”
U.N. and U.S. sanctions have already been imposed on Iran over its nuclear programme, and if current talks fail to produce agreement, Western powers may push for a further round of sanctions on the Islamic Republic.
Israel is assumed to have the Middle East’s only nuclear arsenal. Turkey, a European Union candidate, has been Israel’s closest Muslim ally, but relations have soured since Israel’s December-January attack on the Gaza Strip.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad this week praised Erdogan for his “clear stance against” Israel.
Erdogan also said Turkey wants the Middle East, and in time the world, to be free of nuclear weapons. “We want to live in a region completely purged of nuclear weapons. We want to live in a world in which nuclear weapons no longer exist,” he said.
Erdogan has tried to expand Turkey’s influence in the Middle East and make it a regional power since his party, which traces it roots to an Islamist movement, took office in 2002.
Erdogan also reiterated previous remarks that Turkey and Iran have set themselves a target of more than tripling annual bilateral trade by 2011 to $30 billion.
Editing by Tim Pearce