Reuters: U.S. officials have held talks with Turkey over U.S. sanctions on Iran, U.S. and Turkish officials said, a possible sign that Washington may be growing impatient with Ankara’s trade with Iran despite sanctions.
By Tulay Karadeniz and Thomas Grove
ANKARA/ISTANBUL, Aug 20 (Reuters) – U.S. officials have held talks with Turkey over U.S. sanctions on Iran, U.S. and Turkish officials said, a possible sign that Washington may be growing impatient with Ankara’s trade with Iran despite sanctions.
The meeting this week, which included talks between U.S. State and Treasury officials and the Turkish government, came as Turkey said it would support Turkish companies making sales to Tehran despite unilateral U.S. sanctions that restrict trade.
“They were here to discuss and explain U.N. sanctions and also the new U.S. sanctions package signed into legislation by President Obama on July 1,” a U.S. embassy official in Ankara told Reuters.
The official said Turkey was one of many countries the delegation was planning to visit.
“There was an exchange of views about U.S. sanctions on Iran,” a Turkish Foreign Ministry source told Reuters.
“We told them Turkey does not feel itself bound to adhere to any sanctions other than those enacted by the U.N.”
Since June, the U.N. Security Council, the United States and the European Union have tightened sanctions on Iran over its nuclear programme, which Washington fears is a cover to build an atomic bomb. Tehran says its aims are purely peaceful.
Both the U.S. and EU sanctions cover a broader range of activities than those enacted by the U.N. and are aimed at squeezing Iran’s energy and banking sectors, which could also hurt companies from other countries doing business with Tehran.
The U.S. legislation will sanction companies for supplying Iran with refined petroleum products with a fair market value exceeding $1 million or that during a 12-month period have an aggregate fair market value of $5 million or more.
The Cumhuriyet daily, quoting an unnamed U.S. official, said Washington had sent the delegation to warn Turkey it intended to target Turkish companies deemed to be trading with the Islamic Republic in violation of U.S. sanctions.
Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz told Reuters this month Ankara would back private firms making sales to Iran.
Turkey stepped in to sell Iran the equivalent of 1.2 million barrels of gasoline in June when most other sellers refused to continue sales due to the looming sanctions.
But Turkey charged Iran a 25 percent premium above the market rate then sharply curtailed gasoline shipments by some 73 percent in July as the U.S. sanctions came into force.
The U.S. embassy official would not comment on the report that Washington had warned Turkey about sanctions, but said:
“They are making these visits because it is very important for us to pass the word about this sanctions package.”
The United States has so far largely looked the other way as its Muslim NATO ally has strengthened political and economic ties with Iran as part of Ankara’s long-term energy strategy.
Washington’s tolerant attitude may end if Turkey continues to take the bite out of U.S. sanctions or boost ties with the Islamic Republic beyond a symbolic partnership.
Any international firms that sell gasoline to Iran could face retribution under the U.S. sanctions including a possible ban from the U.S. financial system or denial of U.S. contracts.
Cumhuriyet, an anti-government newspaper, said Tupras, Turkey’s sole refiner and gasoline exporter, was vulnerable to the sanctions. It said state petroleum firm TPAO was readying to sign important agreements with Iran, and that the United States could sever all commercial ties with these companies. Tupras did not answer calls for comment. (Editing by Jon Hemming)