Turkey determined to re-export Iranian gas to Europe
The new Turkish Ambassador, HE Bozkurt Aran, discussed his country's relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran as
well as Turkey's accession to the EU, the Kurdish issue and the Iraqi situation.
Ambassador Aran maintained that his country is determined to continue purchasing Iranian gas and re-export some of it to Europe. The envoy said his country's vast experience and success in the tourism sector could be helpful to Iran in its efforts to boost this industry.
He also said that Ankara's main concern vis a vis Iraq is stability in that country and the region, and expressed
hope that Turkey will be allowed to join the EU, but added that the accession will not take place in the next couple
He said that George Bush's support for Turkey's membership in the EU was helpful, but was not the determining factor in the accession process. Iran signed a contract with Turkey in 1996 for selling gas to that country but the agreement was not implemented until 2001. There does not seem to be a mechanism in place for re-exporting the Iranian gas to Europe.
The ambassador was asked to identify the main problem between Tehran and Ankara regarding the gas issue. He said
Turkey is exporting a lot of gas from Iran for domestic consumption, based on the 1996 agreement. The issue of price
is still being discussed, he said, because Iranian gas has the highest price and Turkey wants to bring the price down
to the level of the average price of other suppliers.
This is according to the original agreement that allows for price revision, he maintained, adding: "I feel that this issue will be sorted out by the end of the current month when our Prime Minister visits Tehran."
Ambassador Aran emphasized that the gas contract itself is not the issue, the issue is the price. He added that, in principle, the two countries agree that this deal is beneficial for both nations and they are just discussing the adjustment of the price.
Regarding the re-export of Iran's gas via turkey, the envoy said that Ankara and Tehran have no disagreements on this
issue: "The question is not whether to do it or not, it is how to proceed with it. The Turkish side needs only to
extend its existing grid by 200 km to be able to transport Iranian gas to Europe. But the question is whether Europe
is ready to accept additional supply of gas, and at what price? There is a lot of competition in this market, mainly
“The Russians completed their grid a long time ago and sometimes they buy cheap gas from the CIS countries and re-export it to Europe at very low prices."
The fact is that Europe is going to need more and more gas in the future and Iran is a major producer, so there will
be more exports from Iran to Europe in the future, Aran said, adding: "The issue that has to be resolved is the
Ambassador Aran was asked if politics is playing a role in this affair. He maintained that due to competition in this sector, some countries are not too happy about Iran exporting its gas to Europe: "But that isonly a matter of negotiation, which we are currently conducting."
The envoy said that, aside from the United States, certain other countries that do not want Iran's gas exports to
reach Europe are also putting pressure on Ankara, but added: "I believe we should allow the discussions to go ahead
and not jump to conclusions yet. We should also remember that turkey is an independent country and because of our
long independent history we have developed our own way of dealing with such pressures."
The Turkish Ambassador said his country had discussed the quality of Iran's gas with the relevant Iranian officials: "But there are no major disagreements over this issue. We have been buying 4.5 mm cm of gas each year from Iran. Turkey buys somewhere around $ 1.6 bn of Iranian gas and oil, mainly gas, each year."
According to the ambassador, volume of trade between Ankara and Tehran stood at $ 2.4 bn last year (2003) while
Turkish companies exported $ 523 mm worth of goods to Iran in the same year: "So, there is a huge Turkish deficit.
Iran currently enjoys an overall trade surplus of more than $ 4 bn and Turkey's contribution to this surplus is 33 %
of the total."
Turkey has been very successful in developing its tourism industry, which is now the largest source of its government's revenue. Iranian newspapers are full of ads for Turkish resorts and Turkish holiday packages. The ambassador was asked if Tehran and Ankara plan to cooperate in the tourism industry, and do Turkish companies plan to invest in this industry in Iran? He said he was not personally aware of any plans for Turkish investment in Iran's tourism industry, but added that a lot of Turkish businessmen, large and small, do come to Iran seeking contracts and business and they may invest in Iran.
Ambassador Aran maintained that his country invested forty years in developing its tourism industry: "I remember 40
years ago when we first started, you could see posters that said `tourists bring revenue'. We have followed this
thought for the last forty years. Of course mistakes were made also, but now we have reached a stage that last year
we had 13.6 mm visitors to our country. Each tourist, on average, brings in $ 800.”
So, last year we earned about $ 10 bn in revenues and this year we expect to earn $ 17 bn." Turkey is blessed with a lot of natural beauties and places of interest, so is Iran, Aran said, adding: "But so far, travellers, not tourists, have visited Iran. There is a distinction between the two. I think soon a lot of European tourism organizations will come to Iran to enter the Iranian market and I feel that as a neighbour of Iran we should share our experiences in this field with you."
The ambassador said Ankara is about to make an offer of cooperation to Tehran and to ask Iran's tourism authorities
to study Turkey's master plan of its tourism industry: "Because if you make mistakes in the initial stages of
developing this industry, it would take a long time to rectify them." The recent closure of Imam Khomeini Airport
created aproblem in Turkish-Iranian relations.
The ambassador was asked if the closure of the airport discouraged Turkish businessmen from doing business with Iran, and if the issue is now resolved? He responded: "The issue has not been resolved yet. Of course that incident was not very encouraging to the Turkish side, but it did not severely damage the two countries' relations."
In a recent article, Seymore Hirsch of the New Yorker claimed that Israel's intelligence agents have infiltrated
Iranian and Turkish Kurdish territories and are training the Kurds to fight against Tehran. It also said that this
Israeli presence is worrying Turkey and that Ankara had warned Tel Aviv about interfering in Kurdish areas, and
actually recalled its ambassador from Tel Aviv in protest.
Ambassador Aran said that Seymore Hirsch is a credible journalist: "But we have not seen any evidence to back his story. Turkey believes that the main issue in this region is stability. To have outside interference is of course not helpful for stability. But the reason for the recall of our ambassador was to protest against the treatment of Palestinians by the Israelis at that particular time in the Rifah refugee camp. We have to remember that we live in the Middle East where there are a lot of stories and rumours, but only some of them are true."
The former PKK recently broke its ceasefire with Ankara. Turkey must naturally be worried. But ambassador Aran said
that his country does not feel threatened by the unilateral rejection of the ceasefire, because: "The former PKK does
not have the support of the people. The group is a minor irritant in the region, but we do not consider them as a
major threat to regional security because of their lack of support among the region's population."
The ambassador was asked if the scheduled visit of Turkish Prime Minister, Teyeb Erdogan, to Tehran is primarily aimed at gaining Tehran's support for declaring the independence of Turkish Cypriots? He said, neighbours talk about all kinds of issues and Cyprus will be on the agenda, but it will not be the major topic of discussion. The major issues, he said, will be regional security and stability, and added that: "Turkey's main concern vis a vis Cyprus is to end the economic and social isolation of the Turkish Cypriots."
The Turkish envoy was asked to comment on his government's options and possible reaction in the event that Iraq is
disintegrated and the Kurds demand independence. Aran maintained that Turkey is doing its best to bring about
stability to the region because if stability is disrupted then all neighbouring countries will suffer the
consequences, not just Turkey but also Iran: "We hope that it will not come to that."
US President George W. Bush recently advised the Europeans to allow Turkey to join the EU. We asked the Turkish Ambassador if Bush's overt support for Turkish accession to EU is going to help Ankara's cause or hinder it.
He responded: "We are getting very positive signals from all the European countries, except France, which has not reached its decision yet, and by the end of December we hope to get a date for starting negotiations (with the EU). Negotiations will be prolonged and we do not think that the actual accession would take place in the next couple of years."
Regarding the Bush support for Turkey, Aran said: "It did make a contribution, but it was not a determining factor in
the accession process. We have been dealing with Europe since 1963 and now we feel that we have reached the final
The ambassador, commenting on the recent spate of bombings in his country and the nationalities of the terrorists, said he had no special knowledge of this subject: "But as far as I know, and judging by the names of the terrorists published in newspapers, I would say they were all Turkish nationals."
He also maintained that his government made no deals with the abductors of three Turkish nationals in Iraq: "It is an iron clad rule of Turkey never to bargain with terrorists." He indicated, however, that the companythat employed the three Turkish workers might have made a deal to free the hostages.