ISTANBUL, (Reuters) – Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Friday he hoped his country and Turkey would soon sign energy deals opposed by Washington, which is trying to pressure Tehran into halting its nuclear programme.
The two Muslim neighbours have failed to conclude expected energy accords during Ahmadinejad’s two-day trip to Turkey, a NATO member with strong ties to the United States and Israel.
Ankara has come under fire for inviting the Iranian leader.
Ahmadinejad has lobbied hard to visit Turkey since coming to power in 2005 as Iran seeks support amid international demands for a suspension of his country’s nuclear enrichment programme — the subject of ongoing talks between Iran and Western powers. “We have reached important agreements on natural gas and electricity issues. God willing we will complete them as soon as possible,” Ahmadinejad said.
“As you know, issues like natural gas and petroleum need investment and talks on these issues may take a long time,” he added.
Turkish sources have attributed the failure to sign the accords to new demands from Iran on pricing and investment conditions. Neither side gave an official reason for the delay.
The United States has voiced its opposition to the energy deal amid a standoff between Iran and Western countries. It is trying to isolate the Islamic Republic over fears it is pursuing a secret nuclear weapons programme. Tehran denies this.
After talks between Ahmadinejad and Turkish President Abdullah Gul on Thursday in Istanbul the two countries said in a joint statement they would continue discussing further energy cooperation.
After Russia, Iran is the biggest provider of gas to Turkey.
However, there are doubts about Ankara’s determination to push through the $3.5 billion energy project with Iran as it may result in U.S. sanctions against Turkish companies, according to analysts.
Ankara has said Ahmadinejad’s visit was necessary given the failure to resolve the dispute over Tehran’s nuclear programme, and offered to help resolve the row.
But analysts say Turkey may have played up the nuclear issue to deflect criticism over inviting Ahmadinejad, who has called for the destruction of Israel and who is shunned by Europe.
Ankara’s powerful secularist establishment has long opposed his visit on fears he would seek to export the Islamic revolution to predominantly Muslim but secular Turkey.
President Gul said on Thursday he had asked Iran to take into consideration the international community’s concerns about Tehran’s nuclear programme.
Ankara fears a possible U.S. or Israeli strike against Iran will plunge the region into turmoil and hurt Turkey.
Iran is becoming an increasingly important trade partner for Turkey. Bilateral trade is set to reach $10 billion this year.
Last year the two countries signed a memorandum of understanding to export Iranian gas to Europe through Turkey, including a provision for Turkey to produce 20.4 billion cubic metres of natural gas in Iran’s huge South Pars gas field.