New York – Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has challenged the United States’ objection to a preliminary deal signed by Turkey and Iran over the summer to deepen their bilateral cooperation in the energy field, saying that the deal concerned solely the two neighboring countries.
Late in July Turkey signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to use Iran as a transit route for Turkmen gas and agreed to develop Iran’s South Pars gas field to facilitate the transport of gas to Europe. Washington has strongly objected to the agreement between its NATO ally Turkey and the Islamic republic to jointly export gas to Europe.
“Turkey and Iran have reached an agreement on natural gas through their own free will. The follow-up to this agreement will take place in decisions to be freely made by the two countries. As a matter of fact, the uneasiness that the US is feeling over this issue doesn’t influence us,” Ahmadinejad told reporters at a press conference held on Tuesday in New York, where he has been attending a UN General Assembly meeting.
Ahead of departing for New York for the same meeting, Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip ErdoÄŸan already defended the ongoing cooperation with Iran, declaring that Turkey will not end natural gas cooperation with neighboring Iran. Already embarrassed by Turkey’s move to strike a deal with Iran on some multi-billion-dollar energy projects, the US is urging Turkey to avoid establishing contact with the Islamic republic and to look for alternative energy suppliers instead.
The US Iran Sanctions Act of 1999 says that if any foreign company invests more than $20 million in Iran’s gas and oil sector they are subject to US sanctions. The cooperation between Iran and Turkey amounts to building 3,500 kilometers of gas pipelines and transporting up to 40 billion cubic meters of gas annually to Europe through Turkey.
In Washington US Congress signaled its disapproval of Ahmadinejad with a vote to tighten sanctions against his government. The swift rebuke on Tuesday was a rare display of bipartisan cooperation in a Congress bitterly divided on the Iraq war. It reflected lawmakers’ long-standing nervousness about Tehran’s intentions in the region, particularly toward Israel — a sentiment fueled by the pro-Israeli lobby whose influence reaches across party lines in Congress. The House passed, by a 397-16 vote, a proposal by Rep. Tom Lantos, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, aimed at blocking foreign investment in Iran, in particular its lucrative energy sector. The bill would specifically bar the president from waiving US sanctions.
In New York US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met Tuesday with the leader of gas-rich Turkmenistan to urge the opening of the energy sector in the central Asian nation. Rice held brief talks with President Gurbanguli Berdymukhamedov and Foreign Minister Rashid Meredov on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly’s ministerial meeting, during which she encouraged liberalization in the authoritarian state, the State Department said.
“They discussed the development of political freedoms and an independent judiciary as well as the opportunities to promote economic growth, including diversification of the economy,” said Gonzalo Gallegos, a department spokesman. “They discussed how to create conditions for private investment and the development of a private economy in Turkmenistan,” he added. “They talked about energy opportunities, including cooperation with US companies, but also with other countries in the region.”
Meanwhile a US official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment, told The New York Times he expected Russia to still receive most of the Turkmen natural gas. “But potentially rich fields in Turkmenistan’s sector of the Caspian Sea could yield reserves to be shipped westward through an undersea pipeline to Turkey,” the paper reported.
SEZAÄ° KALAYCI, Todays ZamanÂ