Turkish and American officials have confirmed that a US delegation comprising representatives from the State and Treasury departments visited Ankara last week to have talks at the Turkish Foreign Ministry and the Undersecretariat of the Treasury over US sanctions on Iran.
The talks came as Turkey said it would support Turkish companies making sales to Tehran despite unilateral US sanctions that restrict trade. “They were here to discuss and explain UN sanctions and also the new US sanctions package signed into legislation by President Obama on July 1," a US Embassy official in Ankara told Reuters late on Friday. The official said Turkey was one of many countries the delegation was planning to visit.
Foreign Ministry officials said the delegation had offered details about the US sanctions but that Turkey's response was negative, the Anatolia news agency reported. “We told them we don't feel obliged to adhere to sanctions other than those imposed by the UN,” an official said.
Since June, the UN Security Council, the United States and the European Union have tightened sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program, which Washington fears is a cover to build an atomic bomb. Tehran says its aims are purely peaceful.
Both the US and EU sanctions cover a broader range of activities than those enacted by the UN and are aimed at squeezing Iran's energy and banking sectors, which could also hurt companies from other countries doing business with Tehran.
The US 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 US 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 US sanctions.
Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yıldız 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 US sanctions came into force.
The US 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."
A delegation of Turkish officials, led by Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioğlu, is expected to begin talks with US officials in Washington today on a number of issues, including Iran's nuclear program.
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 US 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 US sanctions, including a possible ban from the US financial system or denial of US contracts.
Cumhuriyet, an anti-government newspaper, said the Turkish Petroleum Refineries Corporation (TÜPRAŞ), Turkey's sole refiner and gasoline exporter, was vulnerable to the sanctions. It said the state petroleum firm, the Turkish Petroleum Corporation (TPAO), was readying to sign important agreements with Iran, and that the United States could sever all commercial ties with these companies. TÜPRAŞ did not answer calls for comment.