ANKARA // The British prime minister, David Cameron, called on other European Union nations today to drop their objections to Turkey joining the 27-nation bloc. In a speech in the Turkish capital, Ankara, Mr Cameron said: "I will remain your strongest possible advocate for EU membership and for greater influence at the top table of European diplomacy. Together, I want us to pave the road from Ankara to Brussels." Mr Cameron told his Turkish hosts: "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 towards EU membership can be frustrated in the way it has been. "It's just wrong to say Turkey can guard the camp but not be allowed to sit inside the tent."
Both the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, and the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, oppose Turkish membership of the EU. Mounting opposition in the EU to letting in a predominantly Muslim country has seen the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, pursue a less western-oriented foreign policy, seeking closer links with Iran and downgrading ties with Israel. Mr Cameron also said 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.
Mr Cameron's strong reference to the flotilla was likely to please his Turkish hosts, though he said an Israeli inquiry into the incident in May 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," Mr 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 on Monday in an attempt to thwart Iran's nuclear program. The EU's measures also blacklist Iran's shipping and air cargo companies. Mr Cameron said: "New sanctions the EU announced yesterday are designed to persuade Iran to give the international community confidence that its nuclear programme really is peaceful as Iran claimed."
Iran denies that it is working on a nuclear weapon, saying its programme is intended solely for peaceful purposes such as energy generation. Turkey has opposed sanctions against neighboring Iran, and has maintained that the Iranian nuclear programme is peaceful, despite Western suspicions. Turkey and Brazil voted against the UN sanctions on Tehran last month. Mr Cameron said: "We need Turkey's help in making it clear to Iran just how serious we are about engaging fully with the international community."
Mr Cameron is due to fly later today to India. Earlie he 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.