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Turkey’s dissident alliance against US oil sanctions

May 7, 2019 at 1:40 pm

Turkish Presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin in Ankara, Turkey on 8 February 2019 [Mustafa Kamacı/Anadolu Agency]

Turkish media reported recently on the visit to India by Ibrahim Kalin, the special adviser to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The visit came in the middle of an election campaign that the ruling party in India is not certain to win. It is clear that the reason for the visit was urgent, and of a kind that could not wait until after polling day.

The people Kalın met in India give us a hint about why he went there: Ajit Doval, the National Security Advisor to the Prime Minister of India, and Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj. The important agenda item was something of concern to both countries and is related to Iran.

When Donald Trump entered the White House, he withdrew the US from the nuclear deal with Iran. He has since re-imposed unilateral oil sanctions on Tehran, in an attempt to reduce Iranian crude oil exports to zero. Many US allies now face serious economic consequences as a result of these sanctions. In order to alleviate the impact and convince such countries to comply with the US decision, the Trump administration granted six-month significant reduction exceptions (SREs) to eight countries last November.

Of these eight, three — Greece, Italy and Taiwan — chose to comply with the US decision and stopped importing Iranian oil. The others — China, India, Turkey, Japan and South Korea —used the SREs and were hopeful that they could convince Washington to extend them.

READ: Turkey cannot quickly abandon Iranian oil, minister says as US waiver ends

Towards the end of April, with the 2 May expiry date looming, the Turkish Foreign Minister announced that his government rejected America’s “unilateral sanctions and impositions on how to conduct relations with neighbours.” This was a clear sign that Turkey’s lobbying efforts were not being very successful.

Thus, Turkey’s reliance on Kalin’s visit to New Delhi stems from the fact that India, in addition to being one of the eight countries given an SRE, is today regarded as an important US ally against China. Turkey might be convinced that India can use its influence in Washington to convince the US to extend the SREs, which would protect everyone’s interests and prevent the region from being dragged into war. It could even stop a huge rise in oil prices and the resultant devastating effects on the economies of the eight, including Turkey and India.

Israel has a very important role in this context as it has a lot of influence on India. Moreover, Israel was behind the idea of isolating Iran through US sanctions. Trump’s decision was the means to implement this Israeli idea, and so the government of Benjamin Netanyahu will probably try to persuade India not to deal with the Turkish proposals, while also convincing New Delhi to preserve its own interests, most likely by importing Saudi oil at subsided prices.

The deteriorating situation of India’s ruling party is another reason for not taking up the Turkish proposal. It will be difficult for it to confront the US and join a dissident alliance against its oil sanctions of the kind that Turkey wants.

READ: How Trump’s hawkish advisors won debate on Iran oil sanctions

According to Indian media reports, Kalin said that the government in New Delhi told him that it would abide by US sanctions and stop importing oil from Iran. This decision, though is likely to depend on the ability of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE to compensate for the shortfall caused by the interruption to Iranian oil imports.

Then there is China, which has excellent relations with Pakistan, America’s former main ally in South Asia. China, like Turkey, is not happy with the US sanctions on Iran, and the idea that it has to buy oil from other sources. Yet, relations between Beijing and Ankara are not at their best due to China’s policy against its Uyghur Muslim minority resulting in human rights abuses. Pakistan would be instrumental in bringing the Turks and Chinese together, which would mean that the US has not only lost Islamabad to Beijing, but is also losing one of its major allies and important fellow NATO member to its enemies, first to Russia and now to China.

Iran, meanwhile, is certainly in a difficult position, but it is not alone. It seems that the US position is based on the belief that Iran will not go to war and will use various means to evade the sanctions; that is a very dangerous assessment. US sanctions could lead to Iran being stuck in a corner where the only way out is through a war. Today, such a war between Iran on one side and the US and its Arab and Israeli allies on the other looks closer than ever. Although Turkish efforts have not been successful so far, we are likely to see more moves by Turkey in the coming days to prevent things from developing along those lines.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.