The extensive talks held by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan with world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly in New York were marked Wednesday by the hot issue of planned energy deals between Turkey and Iran despite probable U.S. sanctions.
Erdoğan held a surprise meeting with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, while Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan met with his U.S. counterpart Condoleezza Rice.
During the 30 minute Erdoğan–Ahmedinejad meeting, discussions on the preliminary natural gas agreements, Iran’s nuclear program, and joint combat operation plans against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and its Iranian offshoot, the Party for a Free Life in Kurdistan (PJAK), were on the table. Neither side, however, was willing to talk about the details with the press after the meeting.
Energy cooperation with Iran was also on the agenda of Babacan – Rice meeting which came just a day after the U.S. House of Representatives adopted a bill to tighten economic sanctions against Iran in a step that might also severely hit Turkey. The House passed the bill Tuesday with a 397-16 vote that calls for mandatory U.S. sanctions against foreign companies investing more than $20 million in Iran’s lucrative oil and natural gas sectors.
The Turkish side, however, seems decided to go ahead with energy cooperation with Iran as Turkish and Iranian officials said the agreement naming the companies to take part in the natural gas deal will be signed in October.
The agreement, which will be the second stage of the gas deal, will be signed when Iranian Oil Minister Gholamhossein Nozari visits Ankara in October, the officials told Reuters yesterday.
No precise date has yet been fixed for the visit.
« The agreement to be signed will also determine where the future of natural gas coming to Turkey will be used and how the investments will be made, » Ahmed Noorani, a senior official at the Iranian embassy in Ankara, told Reuters.
« In this agreement measures can be found for meeting the gas needs of eastern and southeastern Anatolia, » he added.
Noorani said Turkish and Iranian companies will take on the construction work.
Under their preliminary agreement, Iran and Turkmenistan will pump 30 billion cubic meters of gas a year to Europe.
Ankara and Tehran have also agreed that the Turkish Petroleum Corporation (TPAO) will produce 20 bcm natural gas in the three phases of Iran’s South Pars gas field.
Turkey has said the Iranian and Turkmen gas can be used for the planned 4.6 billion euro ($6.3 billion) Nabucco project, which will carry gas across Turkey and the Balkans to central Europe and is backed by the European Union.
« Turkey needs Iranian natural gas. Nobody should say this gas must not be taken, » Iran’s Noorani said.
In a related development, a Turkish energy executive also confirmed Noorani saying Turkey considers Iran a key energy partner, as it needs Iranian gas to feed a rapidly growing energy demand.
« We cannot disregard Iran only for political reasons, we need Iran from a commercial point of view, » said Hüseyin Saltuk Düzyol, general manager and chairman of the board of Turkish state-controlled pipeline company BOTAŞ, speaking on the sidelines of en energy conference in Milan Wednesday.
Botas, a partner in the international pipeline project Nabucco needs Iran’s gas to fill the pipeline whose capacity is expected to reach 31 billion cubic meters (bcm) by 2020, he said.
« We need additional volumes to fill the Nabocco pipeline. Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan can produce 90 bcm together in 2020. Iran can produce it alone, » he said.
Babacan meets Rice
Almost an hour later, this time in one of the other rooms of the UN building, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan came together. Official sources said the two ministers talked about Iraq, PKK terror, awaiting “Armenian Genocide” resolution at the U.S. House of Representatives, Cyprus and the Middle East Peace Process.
According to Turkish Foreign Ministry sources, Babacan stated that Iraq’s territorial integrity is vitally important for Turkey in the meeting. He also asked for U.S. support to combat PKK terrorism. Secretary Rice, on the other hand, said that the U.S. government would never support any strategy or policy that will allow the disunion of Iraq.
Rice also clearly stated her administration is against passing the Armenian Genocide resolution from the Congress. Yet she warned Turkey about Iran. Iran’s nuclear program is still a threat for the U.S., said Rice. The U.S. State Department reminded Ankara one more time that energy agreements with Iran are unacceptable.
Erdoğan asks for support from the Jewish Lobby
Another important meeting that Erdoğan attended on the third day of his NY visit was with the Jewish lobby. More than 20 high-ranking names of the Jewish lobby came to the meeting.
Erdoğan asked for the continuation of the Jewish lobby’s long time support against the Armenia genocide allegations. Last month, one of the most influential organizations among the Jewish lobby, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) made a statement saying that Turkey’s actions against Armenians between 1915 and 1918 « were tantamount to genocide. »
Although ADL National Director Abe Foxman issued a statement saying that his words were misunderstood, Turkey still felt threatened by this move of the ADL. Foxman, who was also in meeting, talked to the press afterwards. This time he openly stated, “Neither the French parliament nor the American Congress is the place to discuss Armenian allegations.” Foxman also said that he hopes Armenians can call a commission into being to solve this long-standing problem with Turkey.
- Elif Özmenek from TDN New York contributed to this report