Turkey and Iran said on Thursday they want to increase financial transfers between the two countries and double bilateral trade by 2015, a move likely to trouble Western powers trying to squeeze Tehran with sanctions over its nuclear program.
Washington, which has approved a fresh set of sanctions targeting financial institutions that deal with Iran's central bank to stem the flow of oil revenues, has warned regional ally Turkey that banks which do business with Iranian entities run the risk of being frozen out of the US financial system.
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"Iran is the world's third biggest producer of oil, and the world's second biggest producer of natural gas. The target is to make Turkey a bridge for the transfer of these resources," Turkey's Urbanization Minister Erdogan Bayraktar, said in closing statements at a Turkey-Iran economic council in Ankara.
"We have discussed working on money transfer between the two countries. Work is under way for Turkey entering the Iranian banking system and Iran entering the Turkish banking system. We plan very important steps on money transfer," Bayraktar said.
Iran's Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, who attended the meetings, said annual trade volume between the two would increase to $30 billion by 2015, from around $15 billion last year.
"We decided to improve the ties between the countries. The governments will be working on easing the processes," Salehi said. "We decided that Iranian private sector should invest in power projects in Turkish energy markets."
NATO member Turkey has increased economic and political ties with fellow Muslim neighbor Iran in the decade since Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan came to power at the head of a party whose roots lie in political Islam.
New US sanctions aimed at preventing Iran from pursuing its nuclear program have put some Turkish banks and refineries in the spotlight.
Turkey is heavily dependent on imports of oil and gas from Iran and opposed the imposition of UN sanctions on Tehran in 2010, although it says it is abiding by those measures.
Tupras, Turkey's biggest crude oil importer, is a big buyer of Iranian crude, while Turkish lender Halkbank , which is 75% state owned, has gained a reputation in the oil market over the past 18 months for handling trade deals with Iran for third countries.
Turkish officials say there is no obligation for Turkey to enforce tougher unilateral sanctions subsequently announced by the United States and European Union.
Keen to enhance its influence in a region once largely ruled from Istanbul under the Ottoman empire, Turkey under Erdogan has sought to balance long-standing good relations with Washington, Israel and its EU neighbors with stronger trade and diplomatic ties to the Arab world and the rest of the Middle East.
Meanwhile, EU nations agreed Thursday to slap sanctions on Iran's central bank, freezing assets potentially used to finance its nuclear program, but have not yet clinched an oil embargo deal, EU diplomats said.
"The text was considered closed and agreed," a source said of the financial sanctions after talks between senior diplomats from the 27 EU nations to agree action against Iran, which is to be formally adopted by foreign ministers Monday.
The freeze on assets held by Tehran's central bank is to be partial, "enabling legitimate trade to go ahead" and ensuring payment of outstanding Iranian debts to Europe, an EU diplomat said.
But the diplomats were unable to clinch all details of an oil embargo, said the source, speaking on condition of anonymity.
"They'll have another go on Monday morning" ahead of the foreign ministers' meeting, "but it is likely that the oil embargo will have to go directly to the foreign affairs council" of ministers, said another diplomat.
Reuters and AFP contributed to this report
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