Turkey has no plans to cut its imports of Iranian oil, remaining a rare loyal customer of Tehran despite rising pressure from international sanctions and initial signals it may buy more Saudi oil, Turkish and Saudi sources told Reuters.
The sources said Ankara's intentions became clear after a high level delegation traveled to Riyadh over the weekend and decided against requesting additional supplies from top oil exporter Saudi Arabia, the only producer in the world that has spare volumes to offer to replace Iranian barrels. The development will help Iran avoid extra pain from reduced sales of crude as the European Union seeks to ban Iranian oil imports from July 1 and major Asian customers are signaling they might cut purchases under pressure from Washington.
EU and United States sanctions against Iran over its nuclear plans are already hitting oil production in the Islamic Republic and a fall in its output and exports is likely to accelerate if more customers walk away from its oil. This could squeeze the budget and increase internal tensions ahead of parliamentary elections next month.
A Saudi oil ministry official said Turkish energy officials had not asked for additional oil when visiting Riyadh last week.
"Turkey did not ask for more oil, and has no plans to ban imports from Iran," he said.
An Ankara-based energy official said: "Turkey will continue to buy from Iran unless the United Nations supports/endorses the EU and U.S. oil embargo."
A United Nations embargo against Iran now seems very unlikely after Russia and China, the biggest buyer of Iranian crude, blocked UN sanctions against Syria. Turkey's long campaign for EU entry may now be less likely to influence its stance -- its relations with the bloc are at their lowest point in years and negotiations on membership, which began in 2005, are stalled with no immediate prospect of resumption.
Turkey imports around 200,000 barrels per day of oil from Iran, covering 30 percent of daily domestic consumption and representing over seven percent of Iranian oil exports, and had renewed its annual purchase agreement for 2012.
Most industry analysts expect China and Turkey to continue buying the same or increased volumes, despite previous signals from Ankara it could buy more Saudi oil and reports from Beijing that some of its firms are reducing purchases.
Traders say they suspect those signals were part of attempts by both Ankara and Beijing to negotiate lower prices for Iranian oil. The two countries are unlikely to follow the example of major Iranian customers South Korea and Japan, which are seeking to cut purchases to win waivers from U.S. sanctions.
NATO member Turkey has deepened economic and financial ties with Iran in recent years, despite Western efforts to isolate the country because they accuse it of trying to develop bombs under cover of what Tehran says is a nuclear energy program.
On a diplomatic level, Ankara often presents itself as a mediator in talks with the Islamic Republic, which it sees as a balancing force in the region against Israel.
Another Ankara-based oil industry official said Turkey's sole refiner Tüpraş was studying alternative crude purchase options but that did not mean it planned to stop buying oil from Iran, the second biggest oil exporter in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries.
"Tüpraş gets a really good price from Iran and from their point of view, there is nothing illegal. They pay through legal means and as long as that is the case, why would they stop?" he said, referring to payments via Turkish bank Halkbank.
Opposition Against Bill, Accuses PM of Creating His Own 'Gang'
Turkey's main opposition accused Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday of trying to tighten his grip on the security services with a proposed law that would curb the powers of the judiciary to investigate senior intelligence officials.
It was hastily drafted after prosecutors summoned Turkey's top spy last week and lawmakers from Erdogan's ruling Justice and Peace, or AKP, Party pushed it through a parliamentary commission on Tuesday night. It will be put to a general assembly vote this week.
The law would mean top officials from Turkey's spy agency could not be questioned without the prime minister's permission. Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, said by limiting the powers of the state to investigate top spies, the prime minister would effectively be creating a "gang" answerable only to him.
"Will Erdogan be given the power to establish a gang? Even if this gang betrays its country it will not be able to be tried," Kilicdaroglu said. "The prime minister could say to his gang: 'Go kill the president.' Is this a possibility? It is a possibility."
Last week, state prosecutors asked the head of the National Intelligence Agency, or MIT, and his predecessor to testify over secret links between the militant Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, and the agency, which is controlled by Erdogan.
The summons of the head of MIT, Hakan Fidan, who is close to the prime minister, was a rare imposition on the powerful agency and has stirred speculation of a power struggle between Erdogan and elements in the judiciary and police.
MIT has rebuffed the summons and Fidan has failed to appear.
Devlet Bahceli, leader of Turkey's third party, the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, said he would also oppose the bill.
"The head of MIT and officials should testify immediately. Certainly, it is the law that outlines the limits of the government's duties," he said.
The case over whether Fidan and others should be questioned has dominated Turkish media and television footage showed scenes of heated debates at the parliamentary commission.
Umit Boyner, chairwoman of the influential TUSIAD business association, also voiced her concern. "We as ordinary citizens are following with some horror and an increasing feeling of unease the power struggle within the state," she said.
The government said MIT officials should not be summoned without the prime minister's permission for simply carrying out their public duty. The prosecutors' investigation is focused on an organization called the Union of Kurdistan Communities, which the PKK is alleged to have established with the aim of creating its own political system in the mainly Kurdish southeast of Turkey.
Hundreds of people have been arrested in relation to the investigation, including some 150 people during raids across Turkey on Monday. Prosecutors now say they have also uncovered evidence state officials aided the militant separatists.
The prosecutor who ordered their questioning has since been removed from the case and, on Tuesday, media reports said Turkey's High Council of Judges and Prosecutors were investigating him, saying he had abused his position and failed in his duty to inform his superiors about his actions.
Istanbul Deputy Chief Prosecutor Fikret Secen has defended the investigation, saying it was only directed at the actions of individual officials and not against government anti-terrorism policy.
Prosecutors are also believed to want to question MIT officials about secret talks they held in Oslo with PKK representatives. The contacts came to light last year through recordings on the Internet; some have interpreted the targeting of the MIT as a nationalist warning to Erdogan against seeking any negotiated settlement with the PKK.
Talks between the state and PKK were halted after the AKP won a third term in office last June with roughly 50 percent of the votes, and the PKK has returned to fighting using northern Iraq as a refuge for operations in southeastern Turkey.
Feb. 15 marks the anniversary of jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan's capture in 1999 and officials say security forces are on high alert across Turkey fearing PKK attacks to mark the day.
Erdogan, who has Islamist roots but whose AKP includes centre-right and even strongly nationalist elements, has pressed reforms in Turkey that have shaken the political establishment since he was first elected in 2002. He has cut back the influence of the army and shaken up a conservative judiciary.
'Clash Between Powers' Creating a 'Sense of Lost Trust' in Turkey
Turkey is watching with growing trepidation and horror as elements within the state clash over a judicial challenge to the country's spy service and the government's attempts to defend it, the head of Turkey's top business association said Tuesday.
"We are watching the clash between the powers with horror and a growing sense of lost trust," Ümit Boyner, the chair of the Turkish Industry & Business Association, or TÜSİAD, said in reference to an apparent battle among the police and judiciary on one side and the intelligence services on the other after a special prosecutor called the country's spy chief in for questioning last week for his contacts with Kurdish militants.
The call forced the government to draft a bill – which was subjected to debate for the first time Tuesday – to protect National Intelligence Organization, or MİT, personnel from prosecution.
Speaking at a press conference about TÜSİAD's 2012 program, Boyner said Turkey had launched a democratization initiative in the early 2000s, but added that the gains it had made so far were "insignificant."
The process that started in 2008 to clean up the gangs within the state has now come to a point where many question whether this process is taking place within the norms of the universal rules of law, Boyner said, adding that Turkey is distancing itself from the rule of law.
"As the phrase goes, many people, from the journalist to the civil servant, from security personnel to academics, are regarded in the eyes of many citizens as 'those poor souls killed in the crossfire.' Once they get into the system, it becomes nearly impossible to get news of them. The process continues very slowly," she said. "This lack of confidence increases polarization in society."
While it is important to destroy the illegal organizations within the state, it is equally important that the Turkish justice system adopt universal legal criteria as soon as possible, she said.
"What is also equally important is that the [military] tutelage system comes to an end not only through civilianization but that the responsibilities and duties of the powers in the state becomes clearer and into conformity with the norms of law, transparency and accountability," Boyner added.
TÜSİAD unconditionally supports the government and Parliament's right to make policy, she said, but the drafting of a new law to protect MİT and other personnel from prosecution was just a stop-gap solution and would not create a democratic state.
HSYK Launches Preliminary Inquiry into Prosecutor over MIT Probe
The Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors, or HSYK, on Tuesday launched a preliminary inquiry into the actions of İstanbul Specially Authorized Prosecutor Sadrettin Sarıkaya over allegations that he overstepped his authority in an investigation of intelligence officials.
The move by the HYSK's 3rd Chamber comes on the heels of a decision by İstanbul Deputy Chief Public Prosecutor Fikret Seçen to take Sarıkaya off a terrorism-related case after he attempted to obtain the testimonies of National Intelligence Organization, or MİT, Undersecretary Hakan Fidan and four other MİT officials.
On Saturday, Seçen removed the İstanbul specially authorized prosecutor from the Kurdish Communities Union, or KCK, case with the knowledge and approval of İstanbul Chief Public Prosecutor Turan Çolakkadı. Çolakkadı explained the reasons behind the move in remarks to the Sabah daily on Sunday, saying the prosecutor was taken off the case for violating the confidentiality of the investigation and hiding information from his superiors.
High Court Rejects Ex-Army Chief's Request to be Tried at Supreme Council
The Supreme Court of Appeals Chief Public Prosecutor's Office has rejected a request for former military chief retired Gen. İlker Başbuğ, who is currently jailed in a coup plot probe, to be tried by the Supreme State Council instead of a specially authorized court.
Başbuğ's lawyer, İlkay Sezer, filed a request with the Supreme Court of Appeals Chief Public Prosecutor's Office last month for the trial of his client to take place at the Supreme State Council (Yüce Divan), a title the Constitutional Court assumes when it tries ministers, prime ministers, chiefs of General Staff and other high-ranking bureaucrats.
Evaluating the lawyer's request, the office said on Tuesday that charges leveled against Başbuğ are not related to his profession but are "terrorism charges." The office said the authority to try Başbuğ belongs to specially authorized courts and rejected the request.
Greek Patriarch to Give Speech in Turkish Parliament
Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew is set to give a speech to Parliament's Constitutional Commission on Feb. 20 to expound on the problems of Turkey's minorities, marking the first such occasion in the history of the Turkish Republic.
"Our Armenian deputy patriarch says we are happy and not beset by any problems every time a microphone is extended to him. To the contrary, we have problems [of such magnitude] that they are awaiting urgent solutions. Patriarch Bartholomew, on the other hand, does not shirk away from bringing up problems with great courage," Arev Cebeci, a former deputy candidate nominee from the opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, told the Hürriyet Daily News.
Bartholomew will bring up a number of issues in the commission, including the re-opening of the Halki Seminary, the removal of unfavorable statements about Greeks, Armenians and Syriac Christians from Turkish class books and the employment of minorities in public offices.
Bartholomew was invited to Ankara within the framework of ongoing efforts to draft a new constitution for Turkey, although the move has led to criticism from some quarters within minority communities.
"We want to see concrete steps rather than the patriarch being summoned there," Kuryakos Ergün, the head of the Mor Gabriel Monastery Foundation in the southeastern province of Mardin, told the Daily News.
The patriarch is also going to raise other issues in Parliament as well, such as the recognition of minority institutions as legal entities and the funding of minority houses of worship through the budget of the Directorate of Religious Affairs.
"We have problems of identity, recognition and language. Most important of all, we are experiencing great difficulty in training clerics," Ergün added.
It is important for Bartholomew to deliver a speech in Parliament, he said, but he also expressed reservations about the sincerity of the government in Ankara. Turkey's minority communities have more problems in common than they have differences, he added.
"Now we are demanding a solution to our problems. Dialogue is very important. We have been treated as third class citizens through this day, and this situation has to come to an end," Stelyo Berber, the head of Istanbul's Fener Hagia Yorgi Church Foundation, told the Daily News.
Turkey, U.S. Discuss How to Provide Aid to Syrians
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said Turkey and the United States on Monday agreed there should be new humanitarian initiative to reach out to the Syrian people, as a real humanitarian tragedy was taking place in the country.
Davutoğlu said he hoped all obstacles to a humanitarian aid corridor would be removed and that this was not a political or an intervention issue.
"The issue is to allow all Syrians to receive humanitarian aid regardless of their being pro-regime or not," Davutoğlu said in a press conference after meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington. After the vetoes of the United Nations Security Council resolution on Syria by Russia and China, the international community and regional partners could not adopt a "wait and see" approach on Syria, he said. Clinton said Syria was at the top of the list of important matters that she discussed with Davutoğlu.
"We are increasing our funding to organizations like the Red Crescent, the International Committee for the Red Cross, and we're working directly with Syrian organizations at the grassroots to help families who have no electricity, food, or clean water," she said. She also revealed they would "intensify diplomatic pressure" on the Syrian regime, "strengthen targeted sanctions," and "increase outreach to opposition both inside and outside of Syria."
Clinton also praised Turkey as being "a nation of conscience that understands the suffering of the Syrian people and serves as an example alternative to the al-Assad regime."
The Arab League initiative for the Friends of Syria group, which will hold its first meeting in Tunisia next week, was originally Turkey's idea, said Davutoğlu, adding that if the UN Security Council had fulfilled its ethical and political responsibilities there would have been no need for a meeting in Tunisia. This meeting would represent an important international platform to send a strong and clear message to the Syrian regime that they cannot continue their violent policies, he also said.
Tunisia was chosen because it was the first place of the Arab uprisings. Davutoğlu said UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had agreed to accelerate the procedures of a UN humanitarian aid office.
Pentagon, Lockheed See Price of F-35 Going Up
Delays in United States and international orders for Lockheed Martin Corp's new F-35 fighter jet will increase its total cost, Lockheed and U.S. officials said Tuesday, as Italy announced a cut in spending on the warplane.
On Monday, the Pentagon confirmed plans to put off orders for 179 F-35s over the next five years to save $15.1 billion and allow more time for testing, a third restructuring in recent years.
U.S. officials insist they have not changed their plans to develop and buy 2,443 jets at a cost of $382 billion over the next few decades.
Continued schedule delays and talk of lingering technical issues have prompted the eight countries that are helping to fund development of the new plane -- Britain, Australia, Turkey, Canada, Denmark, Norway, Italy and the Netherlands -- to rethink their own near- and long-term plans.
EU Says Natural Gas Pipeline Through Turkey Needed
In a report sent to member countries on the energy sector, the European Union Commission said it needed a pipeline to carry natural gas from Azerbaijan to Europe via Turkey; the pipeline must also be large enough to carry more natural gas from the Caspian to Europe, the commission said.
The latest interruptions in the supply of natural gas from Turkey to Greece necessitate the new pipeline to be utilized solely for carrying natural gas to the EU. Otherwise, the demand in Turkey may cause interruptions creating problems for European consumers of natural gas, the commission stressed in its report.
The EU Commission's report touched on the Trans-Anatolia natural gas pipeline that would carry 16 billion cubic meters of natural gas from Azerbaijan to Turkey and said that this pipeline may be made bigger and replace the Nabucco project to carry natural gas only to the EU.
Trans-Anatolia natural gas pipeline will be completed in five years and cost $6 billion.
Out of the 16 billion cubic meters of natural gas to be carried by the Trans-Anatolia pipeline, six billion cubic meters would be allocated to Turkey while the rest would be sold to Europe.
Turkey Condemns Attacks Targeting Israeli Diplomats
Turkey has condemned recent attacks aimed at Israeli diplomatic personnel in India and Georgia in near-simultaneous strikes.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry on Tuesday issued a written statement to condemn Tuesday's attacks on Israeli diplomats' cars.
"Turkey is against terrorism, regardless of its source or justification. In this regard, we condemn the attacks in question and wish a speedy recovery to those injured," the statement said.