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Merkel, Erdogan trade barbs before Turkey trip

BERLIN (Reuters) - Differences over Iran and Turkey’s bid to join the European Union will dominate talks when German Chancellor Angela Merkel visits Turkey on Monday.

Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel addresses a news conference at the end of an European Union leaders summit in Brussels March 26, 2010. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

Merkel’s two-day talks in Ankara will focus on Iran, the Middle East peace process, Turkey’s bid to join the EU and the two countries’ business and cultural ties.

On Saturday however both she and Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, whose country is currently a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, laid out different approaches for dealing with international efforts to rein in Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

“If Iran does not in the end show transparency over the question of nuclear energy, we must also consider sanctions,” Merkel said in a weekly video address. “This will be a topic of discussion in Ankara.”

NATO-member Turkey has rebuffed calls from ally the United States to support new sanctions against its fellow Muslim nation Iran, which the West suspects is trying to develop atomic bombs. Tehran denies that.

In an interview with influential German newsweekly Der Spiegel, Erdogan said more time was needed for negotiations, adding that he felt the sanctions route would not work.

“There have already been multiple sanctions placed on Iran, but what is the result?” he said in an advance copy of the magazine released on Saturday. “What we need is diplomacy ... everything else threatens global peace and yields nothing.”

Differences between the two were also stark over Turkey’s bid to join the EU. Merkel supports a “privileged partnership” for Turkey, and German officials say it is too early to speak of full EU membership.

“We’re no longer a country that simply aspires to join the EU -- we are already in negotiations for full membership,” Erdogan said, adding that Turkey would not veer from this goal.

“When proposals are made that differ from this framework, it’s like shifting the goal post during a penalty kick in a soccer match -- absurd,” he added.

Erdogan also set the stage for conflict over Germany’s Turkish immigrant community earlier this week when he revived a proposal that Turkish-language schools be set up in Germany.

The comments made headlines in the tabloid press and provoked a string of editorials. Erdogan also implied that he considered himself the prime minister of Turks living in Germany, which drew fire from Merkel on Saturday.

“If there are worries or hardships for people with Turkish roots living here -- I am their Chancellor too,” she said.