Turkey eyes US sanctions waivers on Iran oil, Russia arms

Turkey “expects” the Trump administration to grant it waivers from the US related to its purchases of Iranian oil and Russian air defences, a top aide to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday.

Presidential spokesman and senior adviser Ibrahim Kalin told a news conference he could not be certain that the waivers would be granted. But, he said Turkey had made a strong case that should be heeded.

Turkey is seeking an extension to a waiver that allows it to import Iranian oil without US penalties that were re-imposed in November after President Donald Trump pulled the US out of the landmark 2015 Iran nuclear deal. The waiver expires early next month.

“We are expecting an extension for Turkey,” Kalin said. “We have made it clear we would like to continue to buy Iranian oil. People should not expect Turkey to turn its back on Iran just like that.”

Turkey did not support US sanctions policy on Iran and did not think it would yield the desired result, Kalin said.

The administration granted waivers to eight countries, including Turkey, allowing them to continue to buy Iranian crude provided they pledged to move to cut their imports to zero. Those waivers expire on May 2.

US officials have said that three of the eight waivers won’t require extensions because they have eliminated Iranian oil imports. But they have refused to say whether any of the other five will be extended. The lack of clarity has angered Iran hawks in Congress and elsewhere who say that any waiver extensions will hurt the administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign on Iran to press it to end what the US terms its “malign activities” in the Middle East and beyond.

Sources close to the matter told Reuters News Agency in March that Washington is likely to renew waivers for at least three buyers of Iranian oil and Turkey was one of them, along with China and India.

Kalin said Turkey would not want to violate sanctions if a waiver were not extended.

“We will look for alternatives in terms of transactions and other things. We don’t want to break or violate the sanctions but at the same time we don’t want to be deprived of our right to buy oil and gas from Iran,” he said.

Russia’s S-400 missile defence system

Kalin also said Turkey wants a waiver for sanctions that will likely be triggered should it take delivery of Russia’s advanced S-400 missile defence system over Washington’s objections.

Turkey’s purchase of the S-400 has created a deep rift between the NATO allies, with US officials warning of significant consequences if it is finalised and Turkish officials saying it is a done deal that will not be cancelled.

Kalin said Erdogan and other Turkish officials have been pressing Trump to use a presidential exemption to spare Turkey from sanctions under legislation known as the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, which is aimed in part at Russia’s defence industry. The exemption allows Trump to bypass the mandated sanctions should he determine it is in US national security interests to do so.

“If it comes to it, of course, we would expect President Trump to use his waiver,” Kalin said. He stressed that he could not speak for Trump or other US officials but said that Trump had promised Erdogan that he would personally look into the situation. Kalin said he expected delivery of the S-400 system to be completed within two to three months.

In addition to the sanctions, the Pentagon and State Department have said the S-400 purchase will jeopardise Turkey’s participation in the US F-35 fighter aircraft programme.

Kalin said Turkey was hopeful the US would agree to a Turkish proposal to set up a technical committee to review possible security threats posed by the S-400.

Kalin spoke to reporters at the Turkish embassy as he wrapped up a trip to Washington, DC, with other senior officials in Erdogan’s government, including the ministers of defence, finance and trade.

In addition to their meetings with US officials including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, the officials all spoke at the American-Turkish Council’s annual conference on US-Turkey relations. The conference was held at the Trump International Hotel.

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