on the silk road


US warns Turkey over energy deal with Iran
August 15, 2008, 5:39 am
Filed under: The Silk Road, Turkey | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

From the Financial Times

By Andrew Ward in Washington and Alex Barker in Ankara

The US on Wednesday warned Turkey not to strike an energy deal with Iran that undermined diplomatic efforts to halt Tehran’s nuclear programme, on the eve of a visit to Ankara by Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad, the Iranian president.

A deal to increase Iranian natural gas supplies to Turkey is expected to form the centrepiece of the visit, giving Mr Ahmadi-Nejad a much-needed diplomatic boost as he attempts to defy pressure to isolate Iran.

The US state department said it expected Ankara to avoid a deal that would harm diplomatic efforts but made clear its opposition to any agreement that eased pressure on Tehran.

“Such a deal by Turkey with Iran would send the wrong message at a time when the Iranian regime has repeatedly failed to comply with its UN Security Council and IAEA obligations,” the state department said.

The meeting with Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s prime minister, marks Mr Ahmadi-Nejad’s first bilateral visit to a Nato member. Mr Erdogan is seeking to strengthen energy ties with Tehran, step up co-operation against Kurdish separatists and intensify Turkey’s efforts to defuse the dispute over Iran’s nuclear programme.

The centrepiece of the visit is likely to be progress on an energy initiative that Ankara and Tehran launched last year. That could see a deal signed to increase Iranian natural gas supply and set rates for the transportation of Turkmen gas across Iran.

The US state department said Washington was opposed to any country deepening economic ties with Tehran. “This is not the time to do business with Iran,” it said.

“It is time for the international community, including our ally Turkey, to begin considering additional measures to pressure Iran.”

Ankara and Tehran have good relations, particularly where interests on energy and tackling Kurdish militant groups overlap.

But the standoff over Iran’s nuclear ambitions has tested the relationship. Turkey wants to prevent Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon but is concerned about the risk of military confrontation.

“Increased tensions between Iran and the US will put Turkey in a very awkward position,” Ihsan Dagi, professor at Middle Eastern Technical University, said. “After the Iraq war, [Turkey] learned it could no longer remain indifferent to regional developments.”

One western diplomat welcomed Ankara’s “useful” engagement over Iran’s nuclear programme but said Iran “has yet to request that Turkey acts as a formal mediator”.

Turkey, which is reliant on energy imports, is keen to diversify its supplies and establish itself as a hub between Europe and the energy rich nations to its east.

Washington and some EU states have expressed deep concerns over its energy ties to Iran, which pave the way for Iranian and Turkmen gas to be transported to Europe via the planned Nabuko pipeline from eastern Turkey to Austria.

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