ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Iran, pressured by international sanctions imposed over its disputed nuclear program, wants to send more trade via Turkish ports to reduce dependency on the Gulf, Tehran’s envoy to Turkey said on Tuesday.
Ambassador Bahman Huseyinpur spoke while visiting Turkey’s Black Sea coast as part of a fact-finding mission on the facilities available at Turkish ports.
“We want to transfer a large portion of our trade from the Gulf… to Turkey,” the state-run Anatolian news agency quoted Huseyinpur as saying. “Hence we want to make use of your ports.”
The envoy, who also visited Mersin on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast and the Black Sea ports of Trabzon and Samsun, said the plans were backed by officials in both countries.
U.S. diplomatic cables leaked last month revealed the depth of suspicion that Gulf Arab leaders privately harbor over their neighbor Iran over its shadowy uranium enrichment program, which has left Tehran increasingly isolated internationally.
Although the United Arab Emirates has said little publicly about the sanctions, it has quietly tightened up its longtime role as a trading and financial lifeline for Iran.
Turkey is a NATO member with ambitions to join the European Union but also enjoys growing economic and financial links with Iran despite international sanctions imposed on Tehran. Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan is hoping to triple trade with Iran, estimated at $10 billion annually in 2008, within five years.
There are concerns in the West that Turkey could be used by Iran to circumvent sanctions.
Turkey has said it is complying with sanctions, although having tried — in vain — to mediate between Iran and the international community, Ankara voted against the imposition of a fourth round sanctions by the U.N. Security Council last June.
The United States and European Union imposed their own sets of harsher, more far-reaching sanctions this year.
While the latest sanctions excluded Iran’s crude oil sales, Iran’s imports of refined petroleum products have been affected with ship-owners fearful of being in breach.
Last July, insurance market Lloyd’s of London said it would not insure or reinsure Iranian petroleum shipments.
Because of a lack of investment in its refineries, Iran has been importing some 40 percent of its petroleum product needs, though Iranian officials say import dependency has fallen due to rising domestic output.
World powers are concerned Iran is trying to develop the means to build atomic bombs under cover of a declared civilian nuclear energy program. Tehran says it is enriching uranium solely for peaceful electricity generation.