Turkey Iran Rift Continues Despite Efforts to Downplay

TEHRAN (Reuters)–A senior Turkish official–representing Turkey’s new president during a visit to Iran–on Thursday played down recent tensions between the two neighbors.

State Minister Mehmet Kececiler told reporters ahead of a meeting of heads of state from Economic Cooperation Organization countries that President Ahmet Necdet Sezer’s decision to skip the event had no bearing on Iranian-Turkish ties.

“The absence of the Turkish president has no links to the recent events in Turkey. It was not an unexpected decision,” Kececiler said.

“He (Sezer) politely conveyed this to President (Mohammad) Khatami and said Turkey was determined to carry on with ties with Iran in a friendly atmosphere and based on strong foundations.”

Recent accusations in the Turkish media of Iranian involvement in assassinations of prominent Turkish secularists have marred already tense relations between strictly secular Turkey and Islamic Iran.

Some Turkish commentators have also charged that Iran wants to export its strict views–partly by supporting the armed Islamic group Hizbullah.

On Monday–Turkey’s intelligence service said it was questioning an alleged defector from Iran’s secret service who claims to have information on what Turkey called terrorist acts abroad.

A high-ranking Iranian official–however–told Reuters the man was a petty thief and a traitor out to besmirch the Islamic Republic with false charges of terrorist crimes.

“The government of Turkey has no evidence to prove the recent events and Hizbullah are linked to Iran. Maybe some people in Turkey have such an impression… but Ankara sees no links,” said Kececiler.

“It never attributed support for Hizbullah to Iran–although we believe Hizbullah could not run so many roots without outside help.”

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