Turkey stops buying Iran oil despite earlier unwillingness

Ankara halted Iranian oil imports on May 2.
Thursday 23/05/2019
Oil tankers pass through the Strait of Hormuz, December 21, 2018. (Reuters)
Oil tankers pass through the Strait of Hormuz, December 21, 2018. (Reuters)

Ankara stopped importing oil from Iran at the beginning of May, a Turkish official said Wednesday.

Turkish leaders initially appeared unwilling to comply, but according to the anonymous official, Ankara did stop importing Iranian oil after May 2.  

"As a strategic ally" of the United States, "we respect" the sanctions, said the official, who asked to remain anonymous, during Turkish Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Yavuz Selim Kiran's visit to Washington.

Since pulling out of the landmark Iran nuclear deal a year ago, President Donald Trump's administration has hit Iran with severe sanctions prohibiting the export of Iranian oil, as well as targeting countries that continue to purchase it.

Turkey was among eight countries, also including China, India and Japan, that were initially exempt from the sanctions and allowed to continue importing Iranian crude, but the exemption ended May 2 and has not been renewed.

While meeting with Trump, the Turkish delegation in Washington discussed the various points of tension between the two NATO allies, including Ankara's recent controversial purchase of the S-400 missile defence system from Moscow.

Washington says the deal with Moscow is a threat to Western defence and in April suspended Ankara from the F-35 fighter jet program in a bid to halt the purchase.

"It's a done deal," the Turkish deputy minister told journalists in Washington, reaffirming the country's stance on maintaining the contract with Moscow.

The Turkish government proposed a joint technical working group with the Trump administration to help dispel any fears on the part of the US, which worries that the S-400s will be used to collect technological data on NATO military aircraft, which Russia will be able to access.

"We're still waiting for their answer" on the technical group, added the Turkish official.

US-Turkish relations have grown tense over multiple issues, including US support for Syrian Kurdish forces labelled terrorists by Ankara, and Washington's refusal to extradite Pennsylvania-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen, who is accused of being behind a failed coup in Turkey in 2016.