US says helping Turkey reduce dependence on Iran oil

March 23, 2012, Friday/ 02:44:00

The US State Department spokesperson has said the United States is working with Turkey to reduce its dependence on Iranian oil and find alternative sources in a bid to further squeeze the Islamic republic over its suspected nuclear program.

Reduction of oil imports from Iran may also help Turkey bypass US sanctions. The US exempted Japan and 10 EU nations from financial sanctions because they have significantly cut purchases of Iranian crude oil, but left Iran's top customers, China and India, and allies such as Turkey and South Korea exposed to the possibility of such steps.

The decision announced on Tuesday is a victory for the 11 countries, whose banks have been given a six-month reprieve from the threat of being cut off from the US financial system under new sanctions designed to pressure Iran over its nuclear program.

Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yıldız said on Wednesday that Turkey could still get a waiver over sanctions which the United States plans to implement on countries buying oil from Iran despite not being named on a list of exempted nations released by Washington. “Turkey's absence from the United States waiver list regarding the Iran issue doesn't mean it will not be included,” Yıldız told reporters at an energy conference in Ankara.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan plans to raise the issue with US President Barack Obama during a nuclear security summit in South Korea later this month, Turkish officials told Reuters. Diplomatic sources in Ankara told Today's Zaman that Turkish officials have been continuing efforts to have Turkey included on Washington's waiver list.

Turkey imports around 200,000 barrels of oil from Iran per day, representing over 7 percent of Iran's oil exports. Yıldız said Turkey would continue to buy oil from Iran until existing contracts expire.

Spokesperson Victoria Nuland said at a press briefing that Turkey is one of the countries that the US is working with to support Turkey's efforts to reduce its dependence on Iranian crude and to find alternative sources. “We will continue those discussions,” Nuland added. She stressed that this is about the overall effort to try to reduce Turkey's dependence on Iranian crude.

Yıldız said Turkey could not halt purchasing from Iran unless other suppliers were lined up. Turkey has struck a new contract to buy oil from Libya, and has held inconclusive talks over the possibility of buying from Saudi Arabia.

Turkey's sole refiner Tüpraş, a unit of Koç Holding, is the main customer for Iranian crude. It buys some 30 percent of its crude oil from Iran and has a 9 million ton annual purchase contract.

Koç Energy Group Chairman Erol Memioğlu told reporters last month that Tüpraş's existing oil contract with Iran ends in August. He added that he expected more clarity on the details of the sanctions in May, before Washington's sanctions on oil-related transactions take effect on June 28. Tüpraş also warned that the price it pays for oil could increase if it has to seek alternatives to Iranian oil.

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