Turkey warns against Shi'ite-Sunni Cold War

ANKARA Wed Jan 4, 2012 1:02pm EST

An Iranian Sunni Kurd walks at a bazaar while shopping in Marivan in Kurdistan province, 512 km (318 miles) west of Tehran, May 12, 2011. Iranian Shi'ite and Sunni Kurds live in harmony with each other in Marivan, although Sunni is the religion of the majority of the people. REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl

An Iranian Sunni Kurd walks at a bazaar while shopping in Marivan in Kurdistan province, 512 km (318 miles) west of Tehran, May 12, 2011. Iranian Shi'ite and Sunni Kurds live in harmony with each other in Marivan, although Sunni is the religion of the majority of the people.

Credit: Reuters/Morteza Nikoubazl

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ANKARA (Reuters) - Middle East powerhouse Turkey on Wednesday warned against a sectarian Cold War in the region and said rising Sunni-Shi'ite tensions would be "suicide" for the whole region.

"Let me openly say that there are some willing to start a regional Cold War," Foreign Minster Ahmet Davutoglu told state-run Anatolian news agency before heading to Shi'ite Iran.

"We are determined to prevent a regional Cold War. Sectarian regional tensions would be suicide for the whole region," Davutoglu said, adding such effects would last for decades.

"Turkey is against all polarizations, in the political sense of Iran-Arab tension or in the sense of forming an apparent axis. This will be one of the crucial messages that I will take to Tehran."

Majority Sunni Turkey, which borders Iran, Iraq and Syria, has attempted to play a moderating role as rivals Shi'ite Iran and Sunni powerhouse Saudi Arabia jockey for influence in a region undergoing sweeping changes brought on by "Arab Spring" popular uprisings.

Davutoglu is expected to hold talks in Tehran later on Wednesday on Iran's nuclear program and developments in neighboring Iraq and Syria.

The United States and the European Union stepped up pressure on Iran on Wednesday with European diplomats agreeing in principle to ban Iranian oil imports and Washington sending its Treasury Secretary to Asia to discuss new sanctions.

And Iran has threatened to take action if the U.S. Navy moves an aircraft carrier into the Gulf, Tehran's most aggressive statement yet after weeks of saber-rattling as new U.S. and EU financial sanctions take a toll on its economy.

"Turkey is fiercely against new regional Shi'ite-Sunni tensions, or an anti-Iran or similar tensions arising like in the Gulf," Davutoglu said.

He singled out the case of neighboring Iraq, which is splitting up into sectarian and ethnic fiefdoms, with Kurds consolidating their autonomy in the north, Shi'ites dominant across the south and entrenched in Baghdad, and Sunnis exploring whether to set up their own autonomous region in the centre and west.

"Our Iraq policy foresees close contact with all sides. No one should make a mistake here. No one should act with a conviction that one ideology, one sect, one ethnicity could dominate in any country as it was the case in the past. The societies in the region want a new political understanding."

(Writing by Ibon Villelabeitia; Editing by Alison Williams)

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