Washington’s attempts to corral recalcitrant nations to support increased sanctions on Iran by boycotting their oil exports have seen a number of countries effectively ignore the U.S. pleas, including China and India.
Now however, the Obama administration has apparently scored a diplomatic victory with one of Iran’s neighbors, as Turkey has announced that it will replace Iranian crude imports with oil shipped in from Libya.
But not immediately.
On 30 March Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz announced, “We will begin purchasing crude oil from Libya via the private Turkish Petroleum Refineries Company (TUPRAS) in 2012. We believe that this was the right step to take, to boost our commercial relationship with Libya and help with the normalization of the country. We will accordingly reduce the amount of crude oil purchased from Iran.”
Next year Turkey intends to purchase about one million tons of crude oil from Libya and announced last month that the drawdown in buying Iranian crude had already begun, with TUPRAS announcing on 20 March that it is decreasing its purchases by 20 percent, to be made up from other sources.
In a possible case of “cause and effect,” the previous day U.S. ambassador to Turkey, Francis J. Ricciardone told a press conference in Istanbul, “We certainly hope Turkey will reduce its oil imports from Iran, but we have not come to a conclusion about Turkey’s decision in this regard. “Turkey does not wish to see Iran as a nuclear state and neither does the US. We want to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear weapon state.”
Turkey currently imports around 200,000 barrels per day of oil from Iran, representing over seven percent of Iran’s oil exports. TUPRAS, currently Turkey’s sole refiner, purchases roughly 30 percent of its crude oil from Iran and has a nine million ton annual purchase contract. Seeking to emphasize the purely business nature of such transactions, Yildiz added that Ankara would continue to buy oil from Iran until current contracts expire.
There is evidence that Washington is realizing the energy concerns of major importers of Iranian crude, as on 20 March Washington announced that it would exempt 10 European countries and Japan from penalties for doing business with Iran's central bank to pay for their oil imports, using the ideological fig leaf that the eleven countries have already reduced their oil purchases from Iran. The most important countries that Washington failed to include on its waivers list are China, India, South Korea, and Turkey.
It is hardly that Washington and Ankara see eye to eye on the issue of Iran’s nuclear program, however. The same day that Ricciardone spoke, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said following a visit to Tehran that Iran has provided convincing assurances that its nuclear program is peaceful, accusing the West of having “double standards” because it turns a blind eye to Israel’s nuclear weapons. Erdogan told reports, “Iran’s religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, says openly and clearly that weapons of mass destruction are not acceptable according to ‘fiqh’ and Sharia. If he says that, I cannot then claim that Iran is developing nuclear weapons. Don’t they have the right to a nuclear program for peaceful purposes? We hope that the world will be fair to everyone. Israel, for instance, has a number of (nuclear) warheads. No one is calling them to account for that. The West must hold them accountable. So, therefore, we are compelled to think that they are not sincere and we are asking why.”
Erdogan’s observations, however much they might discomfort the U.S. and Israel, are buttressed by the findings of the International Atomic Energy Agency, which has yet to uncovered definitive evidence that Iran is in fact proceeding with a covert nuclear weapons program.
Furthermore, Turkey remains a key U.S. military ally, with many of the Pentagon’s air flights resupplying U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan transiting Turkey’s massive Incirlik air base.
Turkey also had a military relationship with Israel, representing Tel Aviv’s sole Muslim military alliance, until two years ago.
Israel’s military forces on 31 May 2010 attacked six unarmed civilian vessels in international waters attempting to deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza. Israeli Shayetet 13 Naval Special Forces commandos killed eight Turks during the takeover of the flotilla’s largest vessel, the Mavi Marmara. A ninth victim was an American teenager, 19-year-old Furkan Dogan. Erdogan immediately demanded an apology from Israel – when none was forthcoming, he downgraded Turkey’s relations with Israel, a state which continues to the present day. During a televised speech on 4 June 201, Erdogan accused Israel of betraying its religion, saying, "You brutally killed 19-year-old Furkan Dogan. Which faith, which holy book can be an excuse for killing him?"
So, it is hardly surprising that Turkey refuses one hundred percent to sign onto the U.S.-Israeli agenda over Iran’s nuclear efforts, adopting instead a cautious gradualist approach. In such a supercharged atmosphere Ankara’s cautious moderation is a sign of calm reflection, a quality increasingly lacking in the tempestuous Middle East.
By. John C.K. Daly of Oilprice.com