Speaking in an exclusive interview with Iran Daily, Jalal Ebrahimi added holding negotiations is the best approach toward solving the problem.
In February 2020, quoting an informed official, media wrote that Turkey had, in an official letter, requested Iran to consent to a three-month postponement of the payment of its gas exports by Turkey. The request, however, was rejected by the National Iranian Gas Company. A few days later, the gas pipeline between Iran and Turkey was damaged in the latter’s territory, 900 meters off the common border, where the responsibility of ensuring security falls on Turkish military forces.
Since the occurrence of the incident, gas exports to Turkey from Iran have been stopped. Turkey has not taken any step to fix the pipeline. Following the suspension of Iran’s gas exports, Turkey’s Petroleum Pipeline Company (BOTAS), citing the price review clause in the contract, asked Iran to give a 22 percent discount on its gas price.
Commenting on the broad historical background of friendship between Iran and Turkey and the two countries’ economic relations, Ebrahimi said the two neighbors have stood by each other since a long time ago and cooperated with one another through the Silk Road.
He added on this basis, Iran has always sold its gas to Turkey at a price lower than average international rates, without making its neighbor beholden to itself and based on the principle of good neighborliness.
Shifting to the numerous trade and economic agreements signed between the two countries, Ebrahimi said these treaties as well as religious and cultural commonalities and the principle of good neighborliness have always been taken into account in the relations between Iran and Turkey.
Shifting to the pause in the gas exports, he added that the pipeline was damaged by the opponents of the Turkish government in eastern Turkey.
“This has become a pretext for Turkish officials. Although as per the contract, they should immediately eliminate any problem leading to halt in gas exports, they have taken no step to this end so far while four months have elapsed since the incident.”
Commenting on the same issue, earlier, Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh said although the gas pipeline between Iran and Turkey can be fixed in a few days, the Turkish side has not yet done it.
Saying that he is not informed about the reasons for the delay in fixing the pipeline, Zanganeh noted, “Even, we expressed our willingness to repair it for them, but they did not accept the offer.”
Saying that fixing the pipeline is Turkey’s responsibility, Ebrahimi added the incident did not take place in the Iranian territory where the country’s armed forces are in charge of ensuring security.
In gas export contracts, guaranteeing the security of a pipeline between two countries is a shared responsibility, with each side obligated to protect the section lying in its territory, he stressed.
“Iran has always carefully supervised the flow of gas exports to Turkey. So far, no major problem has emerged in the process of pumping gas from Iran to Turkey. Iran has immediately resolved the minor problems, although their number has been very limited, as it knows that gas is an essential item.”
On the other hand, he said, although Iran is ready to help Turkey fix the pipeline and has expressed it, the other side has so far shown no willingness in the offer.
Ankara is, at present, seeking to further expand its relations with Moscow and sees Russia as a lucrative market for its foodstuff, Ebrahimi noted, saying in addition, Turkey seeks to attract Russia’s support with regard to issues pertaining to Syria.
“Gas [trade] is among the issues that help Turkey become closer to Russia. Turkey is currently importing gas from Russia and seeks to increase its volume.”
Russia is, at present, the biggest gas exporter to Turkey, meeting almost half of the country’s demand for the fossil fuel. Russia is followed by Iran and Azerbaijan with the former supplying 16 percent of Turkey’s gas demands and the latter 10 percent of it.
“Trade is taking the opportunities. Turkey seeks to safeguard its own interests. However, it should reconsider the issue of gas imports from Iran. I don’t say that Turkey should stop trade with Russia or purchasing gas from it. However, it is required to take the principle of good neighborliness into account.”
Iran has never closed its doors to Turkey, will never do such a thing and will always see the country as a neighbor and friend, he added.
“We must not forget that a few years ago, when Russia’s gas exports to Europe were stopped in winter, and European states were placed under considerable economic pressure for meeting their needs, the ground became prepared for a rise in the price of gas exports to this region.”
Russia supplies over 18 percent of Europe’s natural gas. This comes as, gas disputes between Russia and Ukraine over the past years have, on numerous occasions, led to a halt in the former’s gas exports to Europe.
The main reason for the tensions between Moscow and Kiev was the separation of the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine and its joining to Russia following a referendum in 2014.
“Iran has always taken business ethics into consideration in trade with, particularly, its neighbors and has always helped Turkey meet its energy needs. It has never sought to stop gas exports to Turkey in winter to raise the price.”
The Iranian government and people are not interested in the occurrence of any problem in trade between the two countries, he gave the assurance.
“I believe that the two countries should maintain their brotherly ties and refrain from exchanging long-term interests with short-term ones. We are required to maintain our friendship in tough times. I think that the two countries are currently in negotiation with each other to resolve the gas trade issue, which is the best approach and will eventually lead to an agreement between them.”