Turkey warns – Saudi-Iran tensions will hurt ‘powder keg’ region

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Turkey has told Iran and Saudi Arabia to calm tensions in their diplomatic crisis, saying the enmity between the two key Muslim powers would only further escalate problems in an explosive region.

“We want both countries to immediately move away from the situation of tension that will obviously only add to the already severe tensions existing in the Middle East,” Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said in Ankara’s first reaction to the crisis on Sunday.

“The region is already a powder keg,” Kurtulmus, who is also the government spokesman, said after a cabinet meeting, quoted by the Anatolia news agency. “Enough is enough. We need our peace in the region.”

The crisis began at the weekend when Saudi Arabia executed prominent Shiite cleric and activist Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr as well as 46 other convicts, prompting a furious reaction from Tehran and anti-Saudi protests.

Riyadh and then Bahrain and Sudan have now severed relations with Tehran, the main Shiite power.

Turkey’s relations with Saudi Arabia have warmed extensively in recent months and in December President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Riyadh for talks with King Salman and the entire Saudi elite.

Turkey and Saudi Arabia, both overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim powers, share the same vision over the conflict in Syria where they believe only the ousting of President Bashar al-Assad can bring an end to almost five years of civil war.

But in a rare public criticism of Ankara’s ally, Kurtulmus emphasised that Turkey, which abolished the death penalty as part of its bid to join the EU, was opposed to capital punishment.

“We are a country that terminate the death penalty. Death penalties, especially ones that are politically-motivated, are of no help to making peace in the region,” he said.

As Turkish ties with Riyadh have warmed, Ankara’s relations with Tehran have grown more tense in recent months, notably over Iran’s role in Syria where the Islamic republic supports Assad’s regime and over its burgeoning relations with Russia.

But Kurtulmus said: “These are two major Islamic countries for Turkey. We have good relations with each of them.”

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