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Turkey 'rejects' ending of US Iran sanctions waiver: foreign minister

Istanbul — Turkey has announced that it does not accept the US ending its waiver to continue importing Iranian crude oil, with foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu tweeting Monday that it could not accept being told how to conduct relations with neighboring countries.

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"Turkey rejects unilateral sanctions and impositions on how to conduct relations with neighbors," wrote Cavusoglu, cautioning that the US move risked damaging stability in the region.

"The US decision to end sanctions waivers on Iran oil imports will not serve regional peace and stability, yet will harm Iranian people," he warned.

Turkey's state news agency Anatolia also reported Cavusoglu as criticizing the US move in a press conference later on Monday warning that the move "violates the regulations of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and poses a risk to stability in the region.

Cavusoglu also responded to comments by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in which he suggested that Turkey could source crude from Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

"Pushing buying oil from other countries besides Iran goes too far," he said, pointing out that as the US has close ties with both those countries Pompeo was "ethically wrong" to suggest them as alternatives to Iran.

Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan has yet to comment on the US move but as April 23 is an official holiday in Turkey may do so later in the day in his official address.

The US administration announced Monday that it would not renew the 180-day waivers, or Significant Reduction Exceptions (SREs), granted last November to eight countries heavily dependent on imports of Iranian crude.

Turkey's main refiner Tupras -- until recently the country's only refiner -- has long depended on Iranian crude for as much as 51% of its monthly imports, thanks to a long-running import agreement under which the company buys Iran volumes at a small discount.

Turkey's other refiner, Socar subsidiary Star, only began commercial operations last month and as yet has not been reported as importing any Iranian crude.

Tupras' Iran imports last year totalled 7.11 million mt (142,784 b/d), down 38.1% from the 11.493 million mt (230,805 b/d) imported in 2017 following the end of the previous US sanctions regime.

Tupras' purchases from Iran fell sharply last June following the announcement that the US planned to re-impose sanctions against Iran from November last year.

Tupras imported 287,843 b/d from Iran last June, down 69.1% on the 930,978 b/d imported in May 2018.

The company's imports rose again in July to average 867,270b/d but fell to zero in November when the sanctions regime was imposed.

Subsequently the company has imported comparatively small volumes of Iran crude.

Imports in January -- the latest month for which official data is available -- averaged only 90,139 b/d, or 17.4% of total imports, with Iraq becoming Turkey's main source of crude, supplying 171,691 b/d, or 33.2% of imports and Tupras broadening its portfolio of suppliers to include Nigeria, Libya and Colombia, as well as increased volumes from Kazakhstan.

Under the previous sanctions regime imposed by the Obama administration, Tupras was forced to reduce its purchases of Iranian crude by 30%, with imports falling from a peak of 9.287 million mt (186,503 b/d), or 51% of Turkey's total crude imports in 2011, to 5.256 million mt (105,552 b7d), 28.% of Turkey's total crude imports by 2013, and remaining steady at that rate until the ending of sanctions in 2016.

--David O'Byrne, newdesk@spglobal.com

--Edited by Alisdair Bowles, alisdair.bowles@spglobal.com