* Turkey heavily dependent on imported energy
* For oil, Turkey says could increase imports from Russia
* Ankara set to continue importing Iranian gas
* "Gold for gas" trade a concern to U.S.
(Adds U.S. ambassador)
By Evrim Ergin
ISTANBUL, Dec 4 Turkey does not expect tighter
U.S. sanctions to apply to its natural gas imports from Iran,
its energy minister said on Tuesday, which would mean Tehran
will continue to supply and get paid by its biggest gas
The U.S. Senate resoundingly approved expanded sanctions on
global trade with Iran's energy and shipping sectors on Friday
in its latest effort to ratchet up economic pressure on Tehran
over its nuclear programme.
Turkey, which is likely to overtake Britain as Europe's
third-biggest electricity consumer within a decade, depends
heavily on imported energy and could suffer if it had to sharply
reduce imports from Iran.
"Iran is Turkey's second-biggest supplier of natural gas, I
believe (sanctions) will not cover it ... We know that sanctions
of this kind would not only be against Iran but would also be
against Turkey," Energy Minister Taner Yildiz told a news
conference in Istanbul.
Turkey produces most of its electricity from natural gas and
is already struggling to diversify its energy suppliers.
The new sanctions, the third round in a year if passed into
law, include measures aimed at stopping the flow of gold from
Turkey to Iran in exchange for natural gas.
More than 90 percent of Iran's gas exports, or about 10
billion cubic metres a year, go to Turkey under a 25-year supply
deal. That makes Iran Turkey's second-largest gas supplier after
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday that Turkey
would continue to buy natural gas from Iran and had told the
relevant parties the trade would continue.
Washington says Tehran is enriching uranium to levels that
could be used in nuclear weapons. Iran says the programme is for
U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Francis Ricciardone said the U.S.
authorities were "in very close touch" with the Turkish
government on the matter.
"We are focused with our Turkish ally on the same strategic
purpose of preventing proliferation of nuclear weapons in this
region," Ricciardone told reporters in Ankara.
"How we go about that is something we have to work out
together. There are no easy answers, but we all agree that
diplomacy is the way to go."
GAS FOR GOLD
U.S. and European banking sanctions ban payments in U.S.
dollars or euros, so Iran receives Turkish lira in payment for
its exports, a currency that is of limited value for buying
goods on international markets but ideal for buying gold in
Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan said last month
the lira Iran received from Turkey for its gas was being
converted into gold because sanctions meant that it could not
transfer cash into Iran.
U.S. President Barack Obama issued an order over the summer
that allows Washington to impose sanctions on countries that
provide precious metals to Iran. State Department spokeswoman
Victoria Nuland said on Monday that discussions with Turkey
about sanctions were ongoing.
The latest trade data showed that Turkey's precious metal
exports, which include gold, jumped to $14.3 billion in the
first 10 months of the year from $2.7 billion a year ago.
The gold was largely exported to Iran, either directly or
indirectly through the United Arab Emirates, although in October
there were also significant exports to Switzerland, the United
Kingdom and India, which analysts said suggested Tehran had
started using new routes to channel its Turkish gold imports.
Turkey also imports Iranian oil but has been granted
exemptions from sanctions in return for significant cuts in the
level of its purchases.
Yildiz said Turkey could increase its imports of crude oil
from Russia if needed.
(Writing by Nick Tattersall; editing by Jane Baird)