Iranian FM in Turkey amid diplomatic spat

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ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — The Turkish government sharply criticized Iran's military chief on Tuesday for blaming Turkey for the bloodshed in Syria and accusing it of supporting the "warmongering purposes" of the United States.

The statement was issued just before Iran's foreign minister arrived in Turkey for official talks and indicated that this issue will be one of several discussed during his visit.

Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi told reporters on his arrival in Ankara that he would discuss the release of dozens of Iranians abducted outside Damascus with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

On Saturday, Syrian rebels abducted a group of 48 Iranians near Damascus, branding them as spies assisting Syrian President Bashar Assad's crackdown on the uprising. Iran said those captured when their bus was commandeered were pilgrims visiting a Shiite shrine on the outskirts of Damascus.

On Tuesday, Iran's Foreign Ministry said it holds the U.S. responsible for the fate of the abducted Iranians.

Iran has reached out to Turkey and Qatar to help return the captives, but Tehran, a close ally of Syria, also has increased its criticism of Turkey and some Gulf states for supporting Syria's rebels.

On Monday, Iran's semiofficial Fars news agency said the nation's military chief, Gen. Hasan Firouzabadi, blamed Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Qatar for the bloodshed in Syria and accused them of supporting U.S. goals in the country. The general also warned the countries they would suffer turmoil "after Syria" and become the targets of the al-Qaida terror network.

Turkey's Foreign Ministry released a statement — just before Salehi's arrival on Tuesday— condemning the "unfounded accusations" and "improper threats" by the top Iranian commander and other Iranian officials it did not identify. The statement said the issue would be brought up during talks with Salehi.

"We call on Iranian authorities to end their baseless claims and to act in a way befitting the spirit of neighborly relations," the statement said, describing the Iranian comments as "unacceptable irresponsibility."

In Ankara, Salehi would not respond to questions from reporters about the Turkish statement or the general's comments.

Turkey, which has become a strong critic of the Syrian regime, is hosting some 48,000 refugees who have fled the violence and is also a staging ground for rebels fighting Assad's regime.

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Associated Press writer Nasser Karimi in Tehran, Iran contributed to the report.

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