"There is no doubt he is our friend," Erdogan told British newspaper The Guardian in an interview published Monday, referring to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. "As a friend so far we have very good relations and have had no difficulty at all."
He also slammed the Israeli foreign minister once again, claiming that Avigdor Lieberman had threatened to use nuclear weapons against Gaza.
Lieberman's media advisor said in response to Erdogan's remarks, "There's no need to take notice of every piece of nonsense."
The Turkish leader justified his ties with Iran, dismissing claims that his criticism against Israel could harm his country's relations with the United States.
"I don't think there is any possibility of that," he said. "America's policy in this region is not dictated by Israel." The US recently related messages to Turkey that it should lower the flames of its conflict with Israel for fear of harming American interests.
And what about Western accusations that Iran is seeking a nuclear weapon? According to Erdogan, "Iran does not accept it is building a weapon. They are working on nuclear power for the purposes of energy only."
'Won't interfere in Iranian domestic affairs'Turkey's relations with Iran have improved in recent months, while its relations with Israel have nearly deteriorated to a state of crisis. In June, after Ahmadinejad's disputed presidential election, Erdogan and Turkish President Abdullah Gul were among the first foreign leaders to make congratulatory phone calls, ignoring the mass demonstrations and concerns of western leaders over the result's legitimacy.
Erdogan told The Guardian that the move was a "necessity of bilateral relations", explaining that "Mr. Ahmadinejad was declared to be the winner, not officially, but with a large vote difference, and since he is someone we have met before, we called to congratulate him."
"Later it was officially declared that he was elected, he got a vote of confidence and we pay special attention to something like this. It is a basic principle of our foreign policy."
Ahmadinejad, on his part, has voiced his admiration for Erdogan, praising Turkey's recent decision to exclude Israel from a planned air force drill in protest of the Israeli operation in Gaza last winter.
According to The Guardian, Erdogan's gesture will be remembered when he arrives in Tehran this week for talks with Ahmadinejad and Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, that will focus on commercial ties, including Turkey's need for Iranian natural gas.
The talks on Turkey's bid to join the European Union, which were questioned due to human rights issues, are not expected to influence the prime minister's meetings with decision makers. Erdogan clarified that he would not raise the post-election crackdown in Iran with his hosts, saying it would represent "interference" in Iranian domestic affairs.
The Guardian says Erdogan's views will interest US foreign policy makers, who have long seen his AKP government as a model of a pro-western "moderate Islam" that could be adopted in other Muslim countries. US President Barack Obama signaled Turkey's strategic importance in a visit last April and has invited the prime minister to visit Washington.