ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — British Prime Minister David Cameron said Tuesday the world needs Turkey’s help in pushing Iran to address international concerns about its suspected nuclear weapons program, and he harshly criticized Israel’s raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla that killed nine activists aboard a Turkish aid ship.
Cameron, addressing Turkish businessmen, also declared that Britain was a staunch backer of Turkey’s troubled bid to join the European Union. His visit early in his term was a measure of Britain’s acknowledgment of Turkey as a critical ally in a conflict-prone region, much as President Obama traveled to Turkey, NATO’s only Muslim member, in 2009 to boost a partnership despite differences on key issues.
Cameron’s strong reference to the flotilla was likely to please his Turkish hosts, though he said an Israeli inquiry into the May 31 incident should be swift and transparent. That comment differed from Turkey’s public stance that any inquiry should be international.
“The Israeli attack on the Gaza flotilla was completely unacceptable,” Cameron said. In a reference to the Israeli blockade of the Palestinian territory, he said: “Gaza cannot and must not be allowed to remain a prison camp.”
New EU and Canadian sanctions, targeting Iran’s foreign trade, banking and energy sectors, were taken Monday in an attempt to thwart Iran’s nuclear program. The EU’s measures also blacklist Iran’s shipping and air cargo companies.
“New sanctions the EU announced yesterday are designed to persuade Iran to give the international community confidence that its nuclear program really is peaceful as Iran claimed,” Cameron said.
Iran denies that it is working on a nuclear weapon, saying its program is intended solely for peaceful purposes such as energy-generation. Turkey has opposed sanctions against neighboring Iran, and has maintained that the Iranian nuclear program is peaceful, despite Western suspicions.
Turkey and Brazil voted against the U.N. sanctions on Tehran last month.
“We need Turkey’s help in making it clear to Iran just how serious we are about engaging fully with the international community,” Cameron said.
Tehran has sought to deflect pressure and further sanctions by displaying a willingness to talk about nuclear issues.
Under a proposed deal in May with Brazil and Turkey, Iran agreed to ship 1,200 kilograms (2,640 pounds) of low-enriched uranium to Turkey, where it would be stored. In exchange, Iran would get fuel rods made from 20 percent enriched uranium. That level of enrichment is high enough for use in research reactors but too low for nuclear weapons.
That plan didn’t mandate a halt on Iran’s enrichment process and fell short of U.N. demands.
“Even if Iran were to complete the deal, proposed in their recent agreement with Turkey and Brazil, it would retain around 50 percent of its stockpile of low-enriched uranium,” Cameron said.
Earlier, Cameron visited the mausoleum of modern and secular Turkey’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, and laid a wreath at the tomb — a tradition expected of all visiting dignitaries.
Cameron said Britain strongly supported Turkey’s membership bid in the European Union, despite concerns that it was turning away from some Western policies. Turkey faces opposition to its full membership in the EU, mainly from France and Germany.
“When I think about what Turkey has done to defend Europe as a NATO ally and what Turkey is doing today in Afghanistan alongside our European allies, it makes me angry that your progress toward EU membership can be frustrated in the way it has been,” Cameron said.
Cameron planned to fly later Tuesday to India.
Associated Press Writer Selcan Hacaoglu in Ankara contributed to this report.
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