TEL AVIV - Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrived in Israel Sunday for the first time since the outbreak of the Intifada.
Erdogan met with President Moshe Katsav in Jerusalem and is scheduled to meet Prime Minister Ariel Sharon later in the day.
Following the meeting with Katsav, Erdogan said Iranian weapons of mass destruction may pose a threat to the region.
“We, the Turkish people, oppose any weapon that threatens the human race,” he said. “Turkey always serves as a guarantee for regional peace and would continue to do so in the future.”
Sharon and Erdogan are expected to hold a joint press conference at Sharon's official residence in Jerusalem later Sunday.
The visit is an important and sensitive one, in light of the close military ties between the two nations and Erdogan's past criticism of Israeli actions in the West Bank and Gaza.
At one point, the Turkish leader said Israel was at fault for the rise of global anti-Semitism. In addition, Erdogan also chose to characterize Israeli actions in the territories as terror acts.
'Our special relationship'
However, despite prior comments regarding Israel's role in the conflict, Erdogan said in an interview with the Turkish Daily News Sunday that it is the duty of all actors in the Middle East to work for comprehensive peace towards ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
He said Turkey strongly believes in the importance of peace and stability in the region, as developments have direct implications on his country.
Just and lasting peace, enhancing stability and security in the region are among the primary objectives of Turkey's foreign policy, he said told the daily newspaper, adding that he considered increased dialogue and cooperation as the tools to help achieve those goals.
“Benefiting from our special relations with both sides, we can bring an added value to such efforts,” Erdogan said. “I will encourage Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei to persevere and maintain their determination in taking further constructive action."
Iran concerned about Turkish-Israeli cooperation
After Erdogan, who is a member of Turkey's Islamic party, came to power, diplomatic officials in Jerusalem said they were concerned the military ties between the two nations may be undermined.
Notably, Israel's military industries have upgraded Turkish military equipment in the past. In addition, the two countries engage in joint military exercises, which include Israeli flights in Turkish airspace.
Iran and Syria have previously expressed their concern over the Israeli-Turkish cooperation, with Teheran fearing that Israel could use Turkish territory to stage an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities.