Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says his country will continue to do trade with Iran despite threats of sanctions by the United States, arguing that it is impossible for Ankara to stop importing Iranian oil and gas.
Speaking to reporters on his flight back from New York, where he took part in the 74th United Nations General Assembly, Erdogan said Ankara was not afraid of possible economic penalties and would keep ties with its eastern neighbor, according to broadcaster NTV.
He echoed the same stance on Wednesday, shortly after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo penalized six Chinese firms over allegations of transporting Iranian oil despite American sanctions.
“Sanctions have been avoided in the past,” Erdogan told Fox News. “I for one know that sanctions have never solved anything.”
The US, as part of President Donald Trump’s so-called “maximum pressure” campaign, has been seeking to cripple Iran’s economy through what Washington refers to as “toughest ever” sanctions.
The campaign, which began in May 2018 after Trump abandoned the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, has witnessed several rounds of sanctions that specifically targeted Tehran’s oil exports and sought, unsuccessfully, to bring them to zero.
Turkey is heavily reliant on energy and petrochemicals imported from Iran.
The two neighbors had been eyeing a major jump in bilateral trade before the sanctions, setting a target of $30 billion in exchanges. Sanctions, however, have kept the overall trade at around $12 billion a year.
The US continued its sanctions policy last week, blacklisting Iran’s Central Bank in what experts described as a “cosmetic” by Washington out of frustration over the September 14 attacks on Saudi Arabia’s oil installations.
Even though the Yemeni Ansarullah movement has taken responsibility for the attacks that slashed Saudi Arabia’s oil output by more than half, Washington and Riyadh both point the finger at Iran.
Iran has dismissed the claims as an attempt to cover the failure of the expensive US-made air defenses in preventing the attacks. Tehran has also accused the US of shifting focus from its failed “maximum pressure” campaign to a campaign of “maximum deceit.”
Erdogan on Wednesday distanced himself from the US claims, warning against any premature judgments.
“We need to recognize attacks of this scale come from several parts of Yemen. But if we just place the entire burden on Iran, it won’t be the right way to go. Because the evidence available does not necessarily point to that fact,” he told Fox News.