Energy Minister Hilmi Güler announced at the weekend that Turkey and Iran had signed a memorandum of understanding to carry natural gas from Iran and Turkmenistan to Europe. Under the deal, Turkey should also develop three Iranian gas fields.
U.S. officials here and in Ankara criticized the Turkish move that came at a time when the United States is seeking tough sanctions on Iran for its nuclear program. Washington accuses Tehran of attempting to obtain nuclear weapons, but Iran says its program is aimed at energy generation.
"It's going to be up to the Turkish government, Turkish entities, to decide whether or not they want to do business with Iran at this point in time," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters here.
"If you ask our opinion, do we think it's the right moment to be making investments in the Iranian oil and gas sector? No, we don't think so," he said. "And we, as a matter of policy, have stated quite clearly that we don't think that now is the time to be making such investments in that particular sector."
McCormack also said that the Turkish-Iranian deal was a preliminary agreement, adding, "we'll see if it goes anywhere."
Sanctions in the making?
Even long before the ongoing nuclear crisis, the United States had made several attempts to curb international investment in Iran's energy sector.
In 1996, Congress passed the "Iran and Libya Sanctions Act of 1996 (ILSA)" which threatened other countries doing energy business in Iran. Under ILSA, all foreign companies that provide investments over $20 million for the development of petroleum resources in Iran should face U.S. sanctions. The law, open to waivers if deemed necessary by the administration, was renewed in 2001.
And now Congress is working to pass an even tougher version, legislation that would force President George W. Bush to impose sanctions on European and other companies that invest more than $20 million in Iran's oil and gas industry.
The Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Representatives on June 26 passed a bill aiming to punish foreign energy companies that do business with Tehran by 37 votes to one, with Democrats and Republicans alike accusing Iran of using energy investment for nefarious ends.
In May, Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama introduced a similar bill in the Senate.
If the twin bills become law, the legislation will require the U.S. administration to compile a list every six months of companies that have an investment of more than $20 million in Iran's energy sector.
"It's clear that Turkey will get into trouble with the United States if the new Iranian deal goes forward," said Bülent Alirıza, director of Turkey Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank here.
Güncelleme Tarihi: 18 Temmuz 2007, 16:51