By Alakbar Raufoglu
Although US and European sanctions have tightened, they have done little to prevent Iran from becoming Turkey’s number one source of oil imports in the first part of this year.
In the first quarter alone, the Islamic Republic accounted for 30% of Turkey’s 4.3m total tonnes of crude oil imports, followed by Iraq (12%) and Russia (11%), according to Turkey’s Energy Market Regulatory Authority.
Turkey, which imports nearly 90% of its energy requirements, has sought long-term contracts with its neighbours to cover its needs.
“It is getting out of control. Iran is really gaining a major position in Turkey’s oil and gas imports,” said Mete Goknel, former director of Turkey’s state-owned pipeline company, BOTAS.
“For Turkey, monetary interests come before everything else,” he said, explaining that “Iran offers Turkey an affordable price, and Turkey’s private sector gives priority to cheap and long-term partners.”
Goknel believes that increased energy co-operation explains Ankara’s official position over the Iranian nuclear dispute, as the business community expects trade “will play a key role in producing a peaceful solution”.
“We see Iran as a partner in our zero-problem policy, and we are ready to work with Western allies on their concerns,” said Geybulla Ramazanoglu, an adviser to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“Expansion of regional relations and the ability to import much-needed oil and gas from Iran seems like a natural benefit for Turkey and its business interests,” Ramazanoglu added.
Some analysts, meanwhile, urge Ankara to take heed of the risks entailed by Iran’s international isolation and the controversy over its nuclear programme, arguing Iran uses oil as part of its political strategy.
“Turkey must proceed with caution,” warns Raymond Tanter, a former National Security Council staffer and president of the Washington DC-based Iran Policy Committee. “Not only are there mutual economic benefits of increased trade between Iran and Turkey, but because Tehran is the capital of a rogue state, it uses economic ties to exercise political influence more than Ankara, which is well integrated into the international system.”
“Trade casts a long political shadow, but that shadow does not spread equally over all countries involved in a trading relationship. Unlike Turkey, Iran stands alone, perhaps with Syria, as an outcast,” he added.
Speaking to SETimes, Washington-based Turkish analyst Tulin Daloglu said the relationship risks damaging Turkey’s international stature.
“The AKP leadership acted with short-term self-interest, which inevitably put Turkey’s long-term interests in jeopardy,” said Daloglu. “Turkey now risks becoming irrelevant in solving the region’s problems, and that is a big loss for everyone.”
Daloglu explains that despite the reasons behind Ankara’s “No” vote at the UN Security Council for the latest round of Iranian sanctions, the P5+1 — the permanent members of the Security Council and Germany — no longer considers Turkey a reliable moderator.
“It’s difficult to say how this issue will be resolved, but one thing is clear: right now neither Tehran nor the Western alliance considers Turkey a credible mediator,” she says, noting, “It is Ankara’s policies that put Turkey into such an undesirable position.”