Turkish officials defend Iran trade
Turkish firms trading with Iran aren't contributing to the Islamic republic's alleged nuclear ambitions, according to a group of prominent Turkish trade representatives hoping to boost trade with the US. "We realize that it's important that our members understand the details of the US-orchestrated sanctions on Iran and we try to keep them informed," Turkish Union of Chambers and Commodities Exchanges (TOBB) head Rifat Hisarciklioglu told a conference yesterday. "Turkish companies trading with Iran weigh the advantages and disadvantages of trade and then decide whether to proceed. But it should be known these companies aren't contributing to the production of nuclear weapons in Iran." Speaking at the 26th Trans-Atlantic Conference, jointly organized by the TOBB and US think tank the Franklin Center for Global Policy Exchange, Hisarciklioglu and Deputy Prime Minister for the Economy Ali Babacan both spoke on the sensitive Iran issue and how it has shaken Turkish-US relations. Hisarciklioglu said Turkey wants to improve trade ties with the US, reversing their current decline. "In 2002, the US share of total exports from Turkey was 7.3 percent, but by 2008 this fell to only 4.8 percent," he said. Hisarciklioglu said Iran could represent a serious problem for Turkish-US relations, as the US decision to impose additional sanctions on Iran could harm Turkish firms operating in the region. "We shouldn't forget that Iran is Turkey's neighbor, with bilateral trade last year reaching $8 billion," he said. "One of the ways to integrate Iran into the global system is through trade." The improvement of trade ties with Turkey's neighbors is an opportunity, rather than an obstacle, to its relations with the US, he said. "It's very important for Turkey to approach and develop relations with the countries it has historical and cultural ties with, as well as geographical proximity," he added. "That doesn't mean Turkey will turn its back on the transatlantic alliance system." He also said, "Turkey may develop relations within other areas, while keeping strong relations with its allies. We can all benefit from this." For his part, Franklin Center Vice President William Hughes said Turkey and the US should stand together, work together, and cope with difficulties together. Good relations with Turkey, a key US ally, are very important for US officials and leaders, he added. The conference concludes tomorrow in both Ankara and Istanbul, with participants discussing such issues as Turkey's future, foreign investment, trade and energy security, the health and pharmaceuticals sectors, Turkey's EU membership accession bid, and the recent US midterm elections.