WASHINGTON Dec 4 U.S. diplomats are in talks
with Ankara over the flow of gold from Turkey in exchange for
Iranian natural gas, the State Department said on Tuesday.
"We continue, obviously, to consult closely with Turkey - as
we do with all the countries - on the scope of U.S. sanctions
against Iran," State Department spokesman Mark Toner told
reporters at a daily briefing.
"Certainly we would pursue any evidence of potentially
sanctionable transactions," Toner said.
Turkey relies on natural gas imports from Iran and has been
paying for it using Turkish lira. In turn, Tehran has used the
lira to buy Turkish gold. Couriers carry the gold to Dubai and
from there, it is then shipped to Iran.
Turkey also imports Iranian oil as Washington has granted it
exemptions from sanctions for that trade since Ankara has
reduced its purchases.
Whether Washington can enforce sanctions on the gas-for-gold
trade is murkier, as the fuel is paid for in lira, not dollars.
The currency is of limited value for buying goods on
international markets, but is ideal for buying gold within
Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said on Tuesday that
purchases of Iranian natural gas are not covered by U.S.
sanctions, which would mean Tehran will continue to supply and
get paid by its biggest gas customer.
Over the summer, U.S. President Barack Obama issued an order
that allows Washington to place sanctions on countries that
provide precious metals to Iran, in attempt to close loopholes
on the sanctions that target the Islamic Republic's nuclear
Washington believes Iran is enriching uranium that could be
used in nuclear weapons, but Tehran says the program is intended
for civilian purposes.
Last week, the U.S. Senate passed a measure that aims to
slow the flow of gold from Turkey into Iran. If passed into law,
it would be the third round of sanctions on Iran in a year.