Biden prods Turkey on new Iran sanctions

ANKARA (Reuters) - Vice President Joe Biden has urged Turkey to pass new sanctions against Iran, increasing pressure on Washington’s Middle East ally to join a tightening web of sanctions aimed at forcing Tehran to stop work on its nuclear activities.

Turkey's President Abdullah Gul receives U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (R) at the Presidential Palace of Cankaya in Ankara December 2, 2012. REUTERS/Murat Cetinmuhurdar/Presidential Palace Press Office/Handout

Turkey, a Muslim NATO member that aspires to join the European Union, has deepened economic and financial ties with its neighbor Iran in recent years, despite Western efforts to put the squeeze on the Islamic Republic.

“We continue to support a diplomatic solution to our concerns with Iran,” Biden told Turkey’s Hurriyet, in answers to questions from the leading newspaper published on Friday.

“However, we also believe that putting pressure on Iran’s leadership is necessary to secure a negotiated settlement, and that is why we encourage our partners, including Turkey, to take steps to impose new sanctions on Iran, as we have continued to do,” Biden said.

Washington, which is spearheading an international campaign for an ever-growing list of sanctions against Iran, has warned Turkish banks against dealing with local branches of blacklisted Iranian banks, saying they are risking U.S. sanctions.

Turkey, which opposed the latest round of United Nations sanctions against its fellow Muslim neighbor, is bound by U.N. sanctions against Iran and has said it is not obliged to follow non-U.N. sanctions.

A tightening web of sanctions is squeezing Iran’s economy and placing a new burden on foreign firms wary of incurring hefty fines for violating the complex regulations.

The European Union added 180 people and entities to its Iran sanctions list on Thursday and laid out plans for a possible embargo of Iranian oil in response to mounting concerns over the OPEC producer’s nuclear program.

Sanctions have had an impact on Iran’s economy, experts say, but they have not achieved their aim of stopping work the West suspects is aimed at developing nuclear weapons.

Tehran insists its nuclear activities are peaceful.

Analysts say that due to the latest U.S. sanctions against Iran’s oil industry, importers from third countries have had to pay through Turkish banks and the tighter U.S. sanctions become, the more inclined Turkey will be to stop cooperating.

Last week, the United States, Britain and Canada announced sweeping new sanctions on Iran’s energy and financial sectors.

Iran, OPEC’s number two oil producer, exports 2.6 million barrels a day, and the state depends heavily on oil revenues.

Writing by Ibon Villelabeitia