Corruption investigation bombards US-Iran-Turkey triangle
The ongoing bribery investigation in Turkey has revealed the fact that the unknowns about the “Iran-Halkbank-gold” triangle outnumber the knowns. Since the United States and European Union countries imposed sanctions on Iran in 2010, financial operations and transactions with Iran have been exposed to severe restrictions. As of March 2012, Iran has also been banned from using the international money-transfer system SWIFT. Hence it had become impossible to transfer money to and from Iran.
Since Turkey was unable to pay for the natural gas and oil it has been buying from Iran through routine channels, it opened a bank account for Iran at Halkbank to hold the amount equivalent to its purchase. And Iran converted the deposits in these accounts to gold, later transferring it back to the country.
The U.S. has been grouching about this complicated system for a long time. Last April, 47 representatives in the U.S. Congress signed a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew calling for sanctions against Halkbank for its operations. They claimed that Halkbank has been used as a conduit to evade sanctions by Turkey and Iran. Last week David Cohen, the U.S. Treasury’s Undersecretary of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, visited Turkey right after the operation and said the latest rapprochement between the U.S. and Iran does not mean that sanctions have been relaxed. He reportedly urged Turkey to show the required sensitivity on the issue and reiterated the warnings made to Turkey many times before. The U.S. also banned gold exports to Iran in July 2013. So was it right for Turkey to continue the gold exchange? Jonathan Schanzer from the Foundation for Defense of Democracies says that even if not directly against the sanctions, this system is against the spirit of the sanctions. Halkbank, on the other hand, has always been denying the claims that it has been evading the sanctions on Iran.
Whatever the results of the investigation, it is already certain that it will affect the Turkey-Iran energy trade very badly. First and foremost, from now on Turkey will most probably be exposed to the same conditions as other countries. The timing of the operation couldn’t be worse since it coincides with the discussions on softening, even the lifting of sanctions on Iran. Iran has recently engaged in constructive interaction not only with the U.S., but with the whole world. And it is not only the nuclear deal which is at stake. Iran is likely to play a significant behind-the-scenes role to end the Syrian war.
The West, frightened at the increasing power of radical Islamists in Syria, has desperately caved in to maintaining the Bashar al-Assad regime. Hence Western countries depend on Tehran’s assistance in dealing with al-Assad. This is mainly why last week President Barack Obama objected to the bill submitted by more than 25 Republican and Democratic senators requiring new sanctions on Iran. He insisted that the bill would disrupt delicate talks being held between Tehran and world powers and kill the agreement reached in Geneva on Nov. 24.
As President Hassan Rouhani wrote for Washington Post in September, international politics are no longer a zero-sum game. Hence the urgent need to lift the sanctions which are against the Zeitgeist.
This would also save the governments from this kind of complicated, fantastic and bizarre operations.