(CNSNews.com) – Turkey’s government has no plans to stop Turkish companies from selling gasoline to Iran, despite the recent imposition by the United States of sanctions targeting foreign firms supplying petroleum products to Iran.
Monitors of Iran’s energy trade say companies in Turkey, China and Russia are still supplying gasoline to the country, which despite massive crude reserves imports about 40 percent of its gasoline needs because of poor refining infrastructure.
While China and Russia have shown no compunction about trading with controversial regimes, Turkey is a longstanding U.S. ally, a member of NATO and aspires to join the European Union.
President Obama on July 1 signed into law sanctions legislation, which penalizes companies that sell gasoline or other refined petroleum products to Iran or support its domestic refining efforts.
Recently imposed E.U. sanctions also target Iran’s oil and gas industry, although instead of seeking to block gasoline shipments they focus on exports of equipment benefiting Iran’s energy sector.
Turkey’s Energy and Natural Resources Minister Taner Yildiz told Reuters Wednesday that gasoline shipments to Iran would not stop.
“If the preference of the private sector is to sell these products to Iran, we will help them,” the wire service quoted him as saying. “There is no demand for Turkey to halt the trade of these products with Iran.”
Earlier, Yildiz made similar comments to Turkish reporters, pointing out that U.N. sanctions did not cover gasoline shipments. (The watering-down of the U.N. resolution came at the insistence of permanent Security Council members China and Russia.)
The move comes amid concerns that Turkey, under an Islamist-leaning government, is drifting away from the West.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan repeatedly has denied that this is the case – most recently at a Ramadan fast-breaking ceremony in Ankara on Thursday evening – but the view has gained currency since Turkey in June voted against a U.N. Security Council resolution imposing new sanctions against Iran over its nuclear activities.
Erdogan also threw Turkey’s long alliance with Israel into the deep freeze after the deadly Israeli commando raid on activists on a Gaza-bound Turkish-flagged boat on May 31.
In a new publication on “Iran’s Energy Partners,” the Iran Energy Project of the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies identifies Turkish refining company Tupras as one of five suppliers of gasoline to Iran (the others are China’s state-run firms Zhuhai Zhenrong, Sinopec and China National Petroleum Company, and Russia’s LUKOIL).
The report released last week also names Tupras as one of 19 foreign energy “companies with substantial operations in Iran.”
It says Tupras, which gets crude oil from Iran, began gasoline supplies to Iran in June following an 18-month hiatus.
Turkey, which relies on Iran for almost one-third of its natural gas needs, also has plans for other cooperation with Iran’s energy sector, including the joint construction of power plants and a planned pipeline to run natural gas from Iran to Turkey and then on to Europe.
The Iranian Oil Ministry Web site Shana reported on July 23 the signing of a contract relating to the 410-mile Turkish section of the pipeline, a project worth one billion euro ($1.28 billion).
Turkey’s decision to vote against a new sanctions resolution in the Security Council came after it and Brazil mediated a nuclear fuel swap agreement with Iran in May in a bid to pre-empt the sanctions drive.
Critics said the agreement, which would see Iran send some of its low-enriched uranium abroad for processing, did not resolve the key questions behind suspicions that Iran is trying to acquire nuclear weapons capability under the guise of a civilian program.