US official in Ankara as Iran tensions soar

US official in Ankara as Iran tensions soar

ANKARA – Hürriyet Daily News
US official in Ankara as Iran tensions soar

Iran navy vessels and submarines take part in a navy parade during the exercises in the Oman Sea near the Strait of Hormuz in this Jan. 3 photo. As the West increases sanctions against Iran, the latter responds by rising the tension in the crucial strait. REUTERS photo

The United States is intensifying its pressure on Turkey to lessen its trade and financial ties with Iran and comply with recently imposed sanctions against the country amid escalating tension in the Strait of Hormuz, a key oil transport route.

Ankara, which will Jan. 9 host William Burns, the No. 2 of the U.S. State Department, said, “unilateral sanctions were not binding Turkey and it should be exempted from these measures.” “Sanctions implemented by the U.S. and Europe [against Iran] are not binding for Turkey. Turkey has to be exempted from these sanctions,” Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu was quoted as saying by the Japanese daily Nikkei over the weekend. Deputy Secretary of State Burns will meet with Davutoğlu and Undersecretary of the Foreign Ministry Feridun Sinirlioğlu. 

Burns’ visit to Turkey coincides with growing concerns about an armed conflict between Iran and the U.S. in the Strait of Hormuz after Washington issued a series of sanctions on Iran that would penalize foreign financial institutions that do business with Iran’s Central Bank, the main conduit for its oil revenues. The fact that Davutoğlu was the last leader meeting with Iranian officials last week makes Burns’ visit more significant. 

“It will be an overall assessment on foreign policy issues,” a diplomat told the Hürriyet Daily News, underlining that the timing of the meeting was decided long ago. “The talks will likely focus on Iran, Iraq and Syria as well as counter-terrorism and energy security,” said the diplomat. The growing tension between Sunni and Shiite groups in Iraq after the U.S. withdrawal will also be underlined. The two countries’ diplomats will also talk about the functions of the early warning radar system that has been deployed in Turkey’s territories. 

Sanctions would hurt Turkey

Burns is expected to brief Ankara on the content of the sanctions and to demand more support from Turkey in the international community’s diplomatic fight against Iran to stop its nuclear program. Washington is concerned about the nearly $15 billion trade volume and the still-growing trade ties between Turkey and Iran, arguing this relationship encourages Tehran to not heed demands of the international community on its nuclear program. 

“We have made it clear that Turkey would only comply with sanctions decided by the U.N. Security Council under chapter seven of the U.N. Treaty,” the diplomat said. 

The sanctions could hurt Tüpraş, Turkey’s sole refinery, which purchased 9 million tons of crude oil from Iran in 2011 and recently made a deal to purchase the same amount of oil in 2012. Turkey, which supplies one third of its oil from Iran, is one of the most reliant countries on Iranian crude oil. 

Considering the safety of the global energy market and national interests, the sanctions do also envisage exemptions. “Of course, we will eye for own national interests. We will do it without challenging our relationship with our key ally,” the diplomat said, hinting exemptions could be sought. 
U.S. sanctions are causing concerns that they could hurt the global energy market and skyrocket oil prices in the world. Japan, one of the world’s largest energy consumers, demanded to be exempted from sanctions as well. 

Reducing tension in the region 

One of the immediate consequences of Davutoğlu’s meetings last week with Iranian officials was a verbal agreement between Tehran and the European Union on resuming suspended nuclear talks. Though Iran and P5+1 (five permanent U.N. Security Council members and Germany) have announced their intention to hold talks in Turkey, Ankara is seemingly cautious. 

“What we underline is the need to reduce the tension in the region. If both parties have the will to talk, they will talk,” the diplomat said. Davutoğlu said he hoped talks would resume soon. 

Nuclear program non-stop

As the U.S. and Britain are sending additional naval vessels to the Strait of Hormuz, Iran yesterday said “it begun uranium enrichment at a new underground site well protected from possible airstrikes,” a leading Iranian newspaper reported Sunday. 

Another newspaper quoted a senior commander of the powerful Revolutionary Guard force as saying Tehran’s leadership has decided to order the closure of the Strait of Hormuz, a strategic oil route, if the country’s petroleum exports were blocked. 

“The supreme authorities ... have insisted that if enemies block the export of our oil, we won’t allow a drop of oil to pass through the Strait of Hormuz. This is the strategy of the Islamic Republic in countering such threats,” Revolutionary Guard Deputy Commander Ali Ashraf Nouri was quoted as saying by the Khorasan daily.

Also on Jan. 8, it was reported that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad headed to Venezuela for the first leg of a four-nation Latin America tour aimed at shoring up ties with Tehran’s dwindling band of allies. 

Iran’s government Jan. 7 welcomed the U.S. Navy’s rescue of 13 Iranian fishermen held by pirates, calling it a positive humanitarian gesture. U.S. officials announced Jan. 6 that the fishermen had been rescued by a U.S. Navy destroyer Jan. 5, more than 40 days after their boat was commandeered by suspected Somali pirates in the northern Arabian Sea. “The rescue of Iranian sailors by American forces is considered a humanitarian gesture, and we welcome this behavior,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said, Associated Press reported.

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