The United States just announced that its sanctions wavier programme which allowed China, India, Turkey, South Korea, Japan, Greece and Italy to purchase Iranian oil without the fear of American economic reprisals, has just come to an abrupt end as the US permanent cancelled the waivers. At the same time, Saudi Arabia has pledged to increase its oil output along with its GCC allies in order to compensate for the apparent loss of Iranian oil on the open market.
For China, the US is clearly demonstrating that it is willing to play a provocative game of geo-economic chicken at a time when China-US trade talks are reportedly nearing a win-win conclusion. For South Korea, Japan, Italy and Greece, it is a symptom of just how little the US actually cares about the basic economic requirements of allied countries with whom Washington has no meaningful nor dangerous disputes. When it comes to India, geopolitical expert Andrew Korybko’s initial assessment has been vindicated, but for Turkey the issue is most serious of all.
Late last year, just as Turkey and the US appeared to be on course for a rapprochement after relations had consistently declined since 2016, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan hosted a substantial delegation from Iran headed by President Hassan Rouhani. During the reception of his Iranian partners, Erdoğan even read a poem in Farsi much to the delight of his guests. But far from mere symbols of cultural exchange, Erdoğan stated adamantly that Turkey supports Iran and is completely opposed to American sanctions against the Islamic Republic.
Since then, Turkish officials have continually been robust in their defence of Iran against sanctions pressure from a post-JCPOA United States. Turkey has been so forceful in its pro-Iran rhetoric in respect of sanctions that it would be accurate to say that Turkey is far more vocal about the matter than parties to the JCPOA itself including Russia, China, Germany, Britain, France and the EU as a whole.
There are clear reasons for this. First of all, Turkey and Iran have worked hard to further develop and increase healthy bilateral ties in spite of known disagreements regarding the Syrian conflict. Even in spite of these disagreements, Turkey and Iran continue to cooperate in the Astana format (Nursultan format to reflect the current name of the Kazakh city) along with Russia in order to further the Syrian peace process. Likewise, Turkey has confirmed that Iran has participated in a joint anti-terror operation on the borders of both countries aimed at curtailing the presence of the PKK and related terror groups. But moreover, Turkey and Iran seek to continue trading on a win-win basis. This of course includes Iranian energy exports to Turkey which are vital to the economies of both neighbours.
US revokes Iran oil import waivers granted to some countries including Turkey
• Turkey was permitted to buy 60,000 barrels Iranian oil per day (bpd), under the waiver.
• Before sanctions, it was about 200,000 barrels per day.
Iran is among Turkey’s top oil exporters
— Ragıp Soylu (@ragipsoylu) April 22, 2019
Beyond this, whilst Iran has been sanctioned in various forms by the US for decades, NATO member Turkey is being being threatened with major sanctions over Ankara’s refusal to drop its purchase of S-400 missile defence systems from Russia that will likely be delivered to Turkish soil this year. As a result, the US has already frozen Turkey out of the F-35 programme that Ankara otherwise plays a valuable part in.
While Turkey has other options when it comes to purchasing fifth-generation combat aircraft, America’s attitude to a country that has always been a reliable ally is not only seen as insulting in Ankara but a time when vicious western currency speculators have already put pressures on the lira, there is a real concern in Ankara that by cutting off a major supplier of energy from the Turkish market in the form of Iran, the US could effectively be sanctioning Turkey through the back door by forcing Ankara to choose between affordable energy supplies from Iran or even deeper economic standoffs with the United States.
In either case, Turkish officials might be privately wondering if the US isn’t so hellbent on exerting a unilateral approach to relations with Turkey that Washington might end up sanctioning Turkey to the same degree whether or not Ankara continues to purchase Iranian energy – something which is perfectly legal according to international law. Indeed, it must be emphasised that if Turkey continued buying Iranian energy, the only rules that it would be violating are those which the US seeks to enforce on countries that are uniquely beholden to America due to the dominance of the US dollar as the international reserve currency, the primacy of US financial institutions and the fact that the US remains a highly valued market for global exports. The US sanctions therefore have behind them the force of the US dollar and US markets, they do not carry with them the force of international law. Far from it, the UN has condemned the US approach to Iran.
Washington continues to remain divided between anti-Turkish elements and those favouring a more reasonable and moderate approach to a longstanding ally. That being said, some of the most influential lobbies in the US including the Israel lobby have pivoted to an extremely anti-Turkish position over the last two years and over the last 12 months in particular.
It is also of note that while India has received something of a green light from the US to purchase Russian S-400s, the US is treating its long time Turkish ally far worse than its new Indian ally over the matter.
Therefore, when taken as a whole, it becomes apparent that while the end of the US sanctions waiver programme over the sales of Iranian oil will effect multiple nations, America’s latest major move will be especially unfair to Turkey and what’s more is that this was almost certainly the intention from Washington’s perspective.