Posts Tagged ‘Turkey’

Russia’s presidential tag team continues, the U.S. plans to build new military sites in Central Asia and China’s growth hastens

The expected has happened, which somehow has stirred a lot of speculation about the future of Russia. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said he would consider taking back the country’s presidency during the 2012 elections.

“Naturally, I am already thinking about this issue with President Medvedev but have decided not to make much fuss about it, not to let ourselves be distracted by this problem,” Putin said to French media.

It appears that the Medvedev-Putin duo are working out plans for the next round of elections and are likely not going to run against each other but manage a deal in which they can together govern Russia as they have been doing after Putin stepped down from the presidency in 2008 and picked Medvedev as his favoured successor.

And it seems that Russia is playing with both Iran and the U.S. by sending mixed messages on its sale of anti-aircraft missiles. Iran wants what is called a S-300 missile defence system from Russia. The order has long been placed, and delayed. Shortly after UN Security Council sanctions were passed against Iran, a Russian arms supplier was quoted saying the missiles would never be delivered.

Russia’s Foreign Minister, on Thursday, responsed to Iran’s complaint and publicly gave hollow assurances. So the official line is that there are no legal constraints holding Russia back from selling S-300 milles (the fourth round of sanctions against Iran really didn’t add much that is new). But, this is a far cry from saying that Russia is prepared to complete delivery. So, it seems the ball is still in play on this one, and Russia is likely using this in negotiations with the U.S. and perhaps to make sure the U.S. keeps its end of any bargain in the long term.

Just a reminder, the U.S. is still set to implement and expand covert military activity inside and around Iran. A directive signed by General Petraeus in September 2009 is still in play, deepening related plans that began under the Bush administration and continue under President Obama.

“The seven-page directive appears to authorize specific operations in Iran, most likely to gather intelligence about the country’s nuclear program or identify dissident groups that might be useful for a future military offensive,” writes Mark Mazzetti in the New York Times.

More recently, it was revealed that the U.S. is indulging in a small building binge: it will be setting up new military facilities in all Central Asian countries. There seems to be a jostling for such facilities between both the U.S. and Russia.

China, meanwhile, is stamping its presence in the same Central Asian countries economically instead, such as by taking majority shares in a Kazakh oil venture in exchange for a US$10 billion line of credit to Kazakhstan. This sort of lavish spending and economic investment is made possible by its fast growing economy, and, maybe, we might also say that its fast growing economy is a little aided by its economic investments.

Numbers just came out: China’s exports have risen by almost 50% over the past year (no that’s not a typo). It rakes in US$1.2 trillion in export revenues in a year. The economy as a whole has grown at a rate of 11.9% in the first quarter, and all this heat is pushing up housing prices very rapidly which could be leading to a real estate bubble in China. Workers have been increasingly demanding that they get a fair share of all of these profits and have staged various actions including strikes. The most famous case, in a Honda plant, has seen wage levels for its workers rise by between 24% and 33%.

As for Turkey, it seems to expect to reap some economic rewards from the sanctions against Iran. Today’s Zaman writes:

“Strategic Thought Institute (SDE) President Professor Yasin Aktay said the sanctions bring advantages that outweigh any damage that they could present for Turkish-Iranian trade. ‘The sanctions are more concerned with weapons and [Iran’s] Revolutionary Guards; there’s not much activity between [Iran and Turkey] in these fields. Our trade with Iran is concentrated in oil, natural gas, industry and consumer products,’ Aktay said. He further commented that sanctions had above all a strong psychological effect and that this could lead to increased trade with Turkey in fields not covered by the sanctions. ‘It’s an important position to be in when you are a country that can say ‘no’ and remain on its feet; there’s no better public diplomacy than this,’ he said.”

Currently, a natural gas pipeline delivers US$1.5 to US$2 billion of energy from Iran to Turkey each year, and there is talk of more such ventures. In various statements in the early part of this year, Turkish leaders have suggested significantly multiplying trade with Iran, which is at the moment focused on transfers of energy.

(First published at


Turkey in numbers: a growing population and general economy

June 10, 2010 1 comment

Here is quick and rough compilation of statistics on Turkey:


Turkey’s population was estimated to be 74.8 million in 2008, up from 67.4 million in 2000. 27.3 million people are less than 15 years of age, and 6.1 million are 65 and over. (1: Country statistical profile 2010: Turkey — OECD)

68.7% of the population lives in urban areas. (2)


There is 88.7% literacy among adults 15 years and older. (3)

There were 25.4 million (34.4% of the population) Internet users in 2008, up from 9.9 million (13.9%) in 2005. (4: Word Bank statistics, from Download Data spreadsheet)


Spending on healthcare accounted for 5.7% of GDP in 2005 (there is an average of 8.9% in the OECD). The US spends the most on healthcare within the OECD, with 16% of GDP in 2007, followed by France at 11%.

Turkey has the lowest health spending per capita within the OECD.

The share of public spending on healthcare has increased in Turkey from 63% in 2000 to 71% in 2005 (the average in the was OECD 73% in 2005).

Between 1960 and 2007, Turkey has had increase in life expectancy of 23 years, to 71.8 years by 2007 (OECD avg of 79 years).

(5: All data for health sourced from an OECD report here)


Between 2001 and 2007, Turkey’s GDP has increased by 242% to reach $656.6 billion in 2007, to become the 15th largest economy in the world. (6: Captured on June 10, 2010 from the Foreign Economic Relations Board of Turkey, here)

Turkey’s GDP is expected to grow by 6.8% in 2010 compared to a 3.7% average for the OECD. It shrank by 4.9% in 2009, the country’s worst recession in over half a century (7). The recession began in 2008, when the country’s GDP grew by a little less than 1%. (8)

Its GDP in 2008 was $734.9 billion. (9)

Investors in Turkey are diversifying from traditional investments in Europe to include Russia and the Middle East and Brazil as economic demand in Europe remains weak. (10)

Tax revenues made up 18.6% of GDP in 2008. (11: Word Bank statistics, from Download Data spreadsheet)

The country had gross savings at 17.7% of GDP in 2008. (12: Word Bank statistics, from Download Data spreadsheet)

About 31% of income share was held by the wealthiest 10% of the population in 2006. About 2% was held by poorest 10% in the same year. (13: Word Bank statistics, from Download Data spreadsheet) I tried to compare this the situation in the USA but the World Bank’s data spreadsheet did not have recent numbers. It did have numbers for 2000 though, which indicate that the richest 10% of the population held 29.9% of total income while the poorest 10% of the population in the US had 1.9% of income share. By all accounts this gap has since widened.


Unemployment is expected to remain a problem as the population continues to grow. (14)

Unemployment stood at 9.4% in 2008. (15: Word Bank statistics, from Download Data spreadsheet)


Trade accounted for about 26.1% of the share of GDP in 2008, up from 21.6% in 2000. (16)

At the same time, Turkey has a growing negative trade balance, importing more than it exports. (17)

Turkey imported 73% of its energy needs in 2007. (18: Word Bank statistics, from Download Data spreadsheet)

Israeli spy station in Turkey aimed at Iran; the Gaza aid flotilla; and China benefits from Iran sanctions

Following the operation in which nine civilians on an aid flotilla were killed by Israeli commandos, relations between Israel and Turkey have continued to take a dive. Most interestingly, The Times Online has this to say (found via Friday Lunch Club):

Israel has rejected much of the criticism of Operation Sky Winds, but the Israeli defence establishment, long friendly with the Turkish military, is extremely worried. Turkey’s government, itself religiously based, has aligned itself with public anger. Reports to the Israeli defence ministry indicated that it might close down an Israeli intelligence station based on Turkish soil, not far from the Iranian border.

“If that happens,” said a well-informed Israeli source, “Israel will lose its ears and nose, which watch and sniff the Iranians’ back garden.”

The same article also explains that the military team that confronted the aid flotilla was unused to such policing activities against civilians, and that it is more at ease with covert military missions. The example given by The Times was of an assassination it says was successfully conducted against a Syrian general.

Ehud Barak is supposed to have personally managed the flotilla operation from IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv, and was watching events live through military feeds. Currently the Israeli defence minister, Barak was once the commander of an elite force that had the current prime minister, Binyamin (Bibi) Netanyahu under him.

The relationship between Bibi and Ehud goes back more than 40 years. Barak was a commander of Israel’s equivalent of the SAS and Bibi was one of his young officers. In 1972 they were among the commandos who stormed a hijacked Sabena jet at Tel Aviv airport. Bibi was injured by a bullet in his hand. Barak went untouched. Ever since, Netanyahu has regarded him as his mentor.

After they went into politics, Netanyahu became leader of Likud and Barak leader of the Labour party. (From the Times Online article linked above)

Iran has accused Israel of increased covert activity against it. The Iranian Press TV in January 2010 reported that “Sources in Turkey’s ruling party told Russia’s Mignews that Israeli spy agents ran an advanced electronic monitoring station from the Ankara military headquarters to keep tabs on communication networks in Iran and Syria.”

I am not certain how this allegation might be related to the Times Online revelation of an Israeli listening post in Turkey aimed at Iran.

Iran feels that the espionage is intended for use in sabotage and assassinations to slow or stop its uranium enrichment activity.

Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett have some great analysis on China’s approach to sanctions on Iran. They indicate that China has refused to fully oppose US-led sanctions in order to keep the US engaged within the UN Security Council and not have it be freed from the international body to go it alone. By refusing to use its veto in the Security Council, China has avoided a confrontational approach with the US and simultaneously been successful in negotiating for significant changes to each round of sanctions.

The sanctions have so far excluded any measures that would harm China’s trade and energy investments relationship with Iran.

From Race for Iran:

China succeeded in extracting extensive concessions from the Obama Administration with respect to the content of the specific measures contained in the draft sanctions resolution.  Since 2006, Beijing’s approach to the Iranian nuclear issue has been to give Washington just enough on sanctions in the Security Council to keep the United States in the Council with the issue, while watering down the actual sanctions approved so that they would not impede the development of Sino-Iranian relations.  Fundamentally, China is continuing that approach now.

[…]Not only does China buy a significant portion of its oil imports from Iran; as we have written previously, Chinese energy companies have, since the end of 2007, concluded a growing number of investment contracts for Iranian projects.  Beijing was determined that a new sanctions resolution that would not impede the implementation of those contracts or the conclusion of new contracts by Chinese companies, and the Obama Administration predictably caved on the issue.  Moreover, Beijing appears to have extracted a commitment from the Obama Administration that U.S. secondary sanctions will not be imposed on Chinese energy companies or other entities doing business in Iran. Chinese diplomats also negotiated the Obama Administration down with regard to the specific Iranian individuals and entities to be identified in the “annexes” accompanying a new sanctions resolution, to ensure that no individual or entity is included that Chinese companies might need to deal with in pursuing their activities in the Islamic Republic.

What I think is interesting here is that the sanctions seem to actually give China an edge over the US. The US continues to make it difficult for itself and its close allies (such as Europe) to maintain healthy diplomatic and trade ties with Iran. This has left a vacuum that China is handily filling in. China is becoming Iran’s leading trade partner, beating out the likes of Germany. China is also investing heavily in Iran’s infrastructure, including its energy infrastructure, which will help it secure a greater share of the valuable and scarce energy resources.

“In late May, China offered a one billion Euro ($1.2 billion) loan to finance infrastructure projects in Tehran.  Last week, it was announced that China is negotiating to extend another $1.2 billion in credit to Iran for the construction of six liquefied natural gas (LNG) tankers,” according to the article posted on the Race for Iran.

China, the world’s second largest oil consumer, sources over 70% of its imported oil from the Middle East, according to the People’s Daily. According to CNN, 15% of China’s oil imports come from Iran.

With Iran and Pakistan moving ahead with a deal to run a US$7 billion natural gas pipeline into Pakistan’s Balochistan and Sindh provinces, there is talk of potential interest to set up a splinter line north and east from Pakistan to China to deliver gas to China. China, meanwhile, has heavily invested in and essentially led the construction of an energy processing and transit site in Gwadar, a significant Pakistani port city near the Persian Gulf.

Pakistan’s The News reports on the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline:

Under a deal signed in March, Pakistan will be allowed to charge a transit-fee if the proposed pipeline is extended to India. Iran, which makes $18 billion annually from the sale of gas from South Pars, sees its income to surge to at least $96 billion per annum if trans-country pipeline extends to India.

Israeli forces kill civilians carrying aid shipments to Gaza

At least 10 civilians were killed, and many more injured, by Israeli commandos boarding a flotilla of ships carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza on Monday, May 31.

The Gaza Strip is under an Israeli blockade, with all its points of entry monitored and controlled by Israeli officials. The siege has stiffened following the 2007 takeover of Gaza by Hamas and the Israeli war on the Strip that killed some 1,500 people in 2008-2009.

The aid ships carried over 600 activists and 10,000 tonnes of supplies. Among the activists were some members of parliament (MPs). After leaving Turkey, the flotilla was to pick up more passengers in Cyprus, including 30 MPs from nine European countries, but traffic to and from the flotilla was denied by authorities in Cyprus.

Turkey has recalled its ambassador to Israel and has called for a session of the UN Security Council. Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu was on a state visit to Canada at the time and was scheduled to visit the US next. He has canceled his foreign trip and returned to Israel to face the political crisis that has resulted from the deaths of so many international civilians under the Israeli Defense Force.

Greece has ended its joint war games with Israel, while ambassadors are being recalled or questioned in multiple countries, such as Sweden recalling its ambassador to Israel as protest.

Prime minister Erdogan of Turkey has responded to today’s attack, saying that “This attack made by Israel is a state terror. Actual Israeli government demonstrated that it does not want peace in the region. It should be known that we will not keep silent and unreactive facing this state terror.”

Turkey has been one of Israel’s few regional allies, though relations have become increasingly strained following the 2008-2009 war against Gaza.

Israel claims that upon boarding the ships they were attacked by activists wielding clubs and knives and fired live rounds in response, as a form of self-defence. Eight members of the military are said to be wounded.

Juan Cole writes that:

It is being alleged by members of Free Gaza that the aid ships were boarded in international waters and that Israel contravened the UN international convention on freedom of navigation on the high seas. Although the Israeli press refers to the waters off Gaza as “Israeli territorial waters,” in fact Israel has no legal claim to the Gaza coast. It is the Occupying power in Gaza since 1967, but is in severe contravention of the 1949 Geneva Convention on the treatment of occupied populations.

Thousands of people are protesting the incident around the world, outside Israeli and sometimes US consulates. On Monday, some 300 protesters in Turkey tried to storm the Israeli consulate but were repelled by security forces. The number of protesters has since grown.

Amnesty International’s response:

For nearly three years, Israel, which is the occupying power in the Gaza Strip, has implemented a policy of banning all movement of goods and people, except for the most basic humanitarian necessities, which are imported by international aid agencies. Only a fraction of patients in need of treatment outside Gaza are allowed out, and dozens have died waiting for Israeli permission to travel.

“The blockade does not target armed groups but rather punishes Gaza’s entire population by restricting the entry of food, medical supplies, educational equipment and building materials,” said Malcolm Smart.

“Unsurprisingly, its impact falls most heavily on those most vulnerable among Gaza ’s 1.5 million people: children, the elderly and the sick. The blockade constitutes collective punishment under international law and must be lifted immediately.”

Iran’s nuclear program: Opposition between US-Europe versus a Turkey-Brazil consensus

Iran’s nuclear program and international negotiations around it have entered into a new stage of heated discussions which, this time, sees new countries enter the fray to challenge the usual position of authority wielded by the UN’s five permanent members of the Security Council.

On May 19, the US circulated a draft sanctions program aimed at forging consensus in the 15 member UN Security Council (5 permanent — the US, Russia, China, Britain, and France — and 10 rotating members, which currently includes Brazil, Turkey, and Lebanon).

The push for sanctions by the US implicitly rejects a tripartite diplomatic deal reached between Iran, Turkey, and Brazil.

The tripartite deal would see Iran swap almost half of its existing supply of low enriched uranium with Turkey. This is intended to add a measure of transparency to the process of enrichment in order to ensure that Iran’s uranium is used for research and medical purposes over what the US alleges might be an Iranian attempt to develop nuclear weapons. The fuel is intended to be used in the Tehran Research Reactor, which supplies the countries medical isotopes.

A similar deal was proposed by the US, France, and Russia in October 2009, which Iran rejected after long discussion. In that particular case, Iran claimed it was worried that the agreement left it vulnerable to the West. Essentially, Iran was worried that it might hand over its fuel to France, and then France would refuse to return it after processing, leaving Iran in the lurch. One of the key differences in the latest tripartite deal is that Turkey would act as the conduit, a country which actually has good relations with its neighbour, Iran. It is presumed, then, that Iran feels more secure having a country that has not publicly supported the possibility of war against it to act as guarantor. An example of the pressure (to put it lightly) that Iran faces is that, in April 2010, the US president Obama opened the door to the launch of nuclear weapons against Iran and North Korea if deemed necessary. The US excluded these two countries from limits placed on the use of atomic weapons.

It should be made clear that the nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to which both the US and Iran are signatories, states that “in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations, States must refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations, and that the establishment and maintenance of international peace and security are to be promoted with the least diversion for armaments of the world’s human and economic resources.”

The idea is that if you threaten another country with war, especially if the threatening party rattles its atomic weapons, then there would be the danger of creating an incentive for non-nuclear weapons countries to pursue a weapons program in order to reduce the urgency of the threat.

Gary Swick writes:

The objective of Turkey and Brazil was to persuade Iran to accept the terms of an agreement the United States had itself promoted only six months ago as a confidence-building measure and the precursor to more substantive talks. There were twelve visits back and forth between the Turk and his Iranian counterpart, some 40 phone conversations, and eighteen grueling hours of personal negotiations leading up to the presentation of the signed agreement on Monday.

The Turks and Brazilians, who felt they had “delivered” Iran on the terms demanded by the United States, were surprised and disappointed at the negative reactions from Washington. Little did they know that their success in Tehran, which had been given a 0-30 percent chance just days earlier, came just as the Americans were putting the final touches on a package of sanctions to be presented to the UN Security Council. The Tehran agreement was as welcome as a pothole in the fast lane, and the Americans were not reluctant to let their displeasure be known.

The sanctions proposed by the US would, according to the Washington Post, “expand an asset freeze and travel ban against individuals and entities linked to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps. A critical element still to be negotiated is a list of those names.” Sanctions would also include a ban on shipments of large weapons systems “such as battle tanks, combat aircraft and missiles.”

More from the same article: “Diplomats said that some of [the] sanctions were proposed with the full knowledge they would be removed by the Russians and Chinese — but then could be revived in an E.U. resolution. Individual country sanctions could follow, and would be led by the United States and like-minded nations.”

The Daily Start reports that although the agreement reached between Iran, Turkey, and Brazil “was hailed as a diplomatic coup by Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the United States and its allies Britain and France said it did not go far enough to avert the sanctions push.”

Well-informed sources close to the Lebanese delegation to the UN in New York said: ‘Lebanon has always been against any sanctions against Iran because Lebanon believes it is the right of all nations or countries to own nuclear energy.’

‘Lebanon has repeatedly reiterated its stance against the sanctions, especially that Iran is saying that the proliferation of the enriched uranium is done for peaceful purposes,’ the sources said, adding that Lebanon will abstain from the vote on sanctions.

Nine out of fifteen security council members have to vote in favour for a resolution to pass. The five permanent members of the security council have veto power.

The Brazilian foreign minister on Tuesday stated that the “agreement [between Iran, Brazil and Turkey] is a new fact that has to be evaluated.” And “to ignore this agreement would be to discard the possibility of a pacific solution.”

The conflicting proposals from the US and Europe for sanctions on one side and a tripartite deal led by Turkey and Brazil on the other also reflects a tension in international affairs as countries outside of the framework of Washington’s consensus of world order vie for alternative visions of international affairs in general. This was voiced by some Brazilian newspapers, such as Folha de Sao Paulo (quoted in the Daily Star): “The US government is more than anything looking to show who runs a hierarchy of global power that emerging powers such as Brazil and Turkey see as outdated.”

Similar sentiments challenging the existing international model centered around overwhelming US power emerged during an April meeting between Brazil, India, Russia, China, and South Africa at the Brazilian capital.

On Wednesday, Turkey’s foreign minister claimed that the US president had personally encouraged Brazil and Turkey to pursue the now contested deal with Iran. According to FP’s The Cable:

It’s true that Obama ‘encouraged’ Turkey and Brazil to hold discussions with Iran, a White House official tells The Cable, but he never indicated that a deal like the one announced this week would be sufficient to alleviate international concerns or stave off sanctions.

Nor did Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who spoke with Davutoglu by last Friday, give the talks an unqualified thumbs up. ‘During the call, the secretary stressed that in our view, Iran’s recent diplomacy was an attempt to stop Security Council action without actually taking steps to address international concerns about its nuclear program,’ State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said.

According to the White House, Obama did not mean to suggest that a fuel-swap deal alone would be enough to assuage U.S. concerns about Iran’s nuclear program.

Antonio Ramlho, a professor of international relations at the university of Brasilia has said that the “Brazilian government believes that new and tougher sanctions on Iran would not work.”

It would only contribute to strengthening Iran’s position in the region and strengthening the hardliners within Iranian society and within the Iranian government. They would be able to say that the economic problems they face were due to the sanctions imposed by the international community.

If we impose further sanctions, that will only increase the secrecy in Iran and increase the military orientation of this program.

He also expresses the view that the NPT is, in practice, discriminatory and does not treat all members as equal before international law. That some countries are viewed as irresponsible and are generally pressured not to pursue any nuclear technology despite the fact that the NPT clearly indicates their right to pursue civilian nuclear technology.

He says that, “In 1998, when Brazil signed the NPT treaty, there were arguments for and against. The argument against adhering to the NPT was that Brazil already made its program transparent, but at the same point, it had this principled position which is the one followed by India. Although we know that India had a military program, the Indian government has never agreed to adhere to the NPT [because] it is a discriminatory treaty. In 1998, the majority of the military, as well as many diplomats and experts, [thought] that Brazil should not sign the NPT, based on this argument. It is the tradition of Brazil to fight for a more fair international order that is ruled by institutions and norms [and] that considers states to be equally responsible from the point of view of international law. The argument was that we should not subscribe to a treaty that is discriminatory. This did not mean that Brazil aimed at developing nuclear artifacts or whatever.”

Despite US claims that it has Russia and China’s support in pushing for expanded sanctions, Russia has recently sent a contradictory signal, which goes some way to explaining why the US was not able to include its real wish list in the proposed sanctions. From Reuters: “A reactor being built by Russia at Iran’s Bushehr nuclear power plant is scheduled to begin operating in August, the head of Russia’s state nuclear corporation told journalists on Thursday.”

The US has rejected Turkey and Brazil’s initiative and is trying to quickly cobble together support for its proposed sanctions. The Russian foreign minister has “called on Iran to send details of its proposed uranium swap to the UN’s nuclear agency as soon as possible.” US secretary of state Clinton has said that her government has the support of Russia and China. I have not seen any clear message from either of these countries on whether and to what extent they might support the sanctions as presented by the US.

The position of the US is that new sanctions should be applied to Iran unless it halts all enrichment activity. Period. “But that had not been the [US] Administration’s position” since a similar fuel swap deal was first tabled in October 2009. “From that point until this Monday, the Administration repeatedly indicated that Iranian acceptance of the [October] Baradei proposal would preclude the imposition of further sanctions, at least until there had been further negotiations about the broader range of issues associated with the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program.  At least in the near term, the avoidance of new sanctions was no longer linked to suspension.  (Senior British officials told us last fall that this was why, as a matter of policy, Her Majesty’s Government did not want to see the TRR [the Tehran Research Reactor] deal go through—because it would then be practically impossible to sanction Iran over its continued refusal to abide by Security Council resolutions calling for suspension.)” write Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett at The Race for Iran.

They add that, “Now that Tehran has accepted the main elements of the Baradei proposal—the transfer of 1,200 kilos of low-enriched uranium out of Iran in exchange for new fuel for the TRR—the United States has unilaterally changed the game.”

Gareth Porter, writing for IPS, says that:

The Obama administration had not previously declared publicly that it was demanding an end to all enrichment by Iran, and had suggested directly and indirectly that it wanted a broader diplomatic engagement with Iran covering issues of concern to both states.

The new hard line, ruling out broader diplomatic engagement with Iran, and the new light on the strategy behind last year’s swap proposal confirms what has long been suspected – that the debate within the Obama administration last year over whether to abandon the demand for an end to Iranian uranium enrichment as unrealistic had been won by proponents of the zero enrichment demand by late summer 2009.

It is possible that the American claim of China’s ‘support’ of the sanctions program is in principle only. That China might support the writing of a sanction to be held in reserve but in fact back the tripartite Iran, Turkey, Brazil deal.

You can listen to an interview with Gareth Porter regarding these events on Antiwar Radio or click on the play button below.

Below are links to full texts of the proposed agreements:

The Iran-Turkey-Brazil agreement

Sanctions proposal against Iran

It’s true that Obama “encouraged” Turkey and Brazil to hold discussions with Iran, a White House official tells The Cable, but he never indicated that a deal like the one announced this week would be sufficient to alleviate international concerns or stave off sanctions

Turkey in context: The Turkey-Brazil-Iran nuclear negotiation

May 19, 2010 3 comments

On Monday Turkey and Iran agreed to swap nuclear fuel (low enriched uranium).

From Huffington Post:

The deal forged with Turkey and Brazil appeared to be another attempt to stave off U.N. sanctions – a doubtful endeavor judging by reactions from the United States and other Western powers.

This article, sent to me by a friend, has prompted a short response from me. I am particularly interested in the alternative fulcrums of international power that have increasingly been voicing their visions of international relations. This voice represents a share of those ‘developing’ countries that have grown to be economically impossible to ignore, such as Brazil, Russia, India, China (collectively known as the BRIC), and also including such regional influences as Turkey.

Given this context of new challenges to the traditional power of Western states and international institutions, the case of Turkish involvement in Iran’s nuclear deal is particularly interesting.

It is in line with what the April BRIC meeting in Brasilia had articulated regarding any sanction or deal to do with Iran’s nuclear program. Specifically, the BRIC nations indicated a support for diplomatic options to deal with Iran’s nuclear program and have strongly suggested they would resist harsh sanctions. The meeting took place after the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, and brought Brazil, India, Russia, China, and South Africa to the Brazilian capital.

The meeting in Brasilia was a step toward the generation of an international order that does not marginalize participating states, now representing some of the world’s largest economies. In that case, it was strategic that the group assembled only one week prior to the annual International Monetary Fund and World Bank meeting of 24-25 April. It also precedes the G8 summit to be held in Canada this June.

Turkey wants access to more energy. It has limited options for domestic electrical generation. According to an Asia Times article by Saban Kardas, “The country’s current total proven oil reserves could meet only its consumption for a year, and entire natural gas reserves could satisfy only one sixth of its consumption for one year.” It would like to import electricity from its neighbours, including from Iran’s grid. It also seeks to expand its gas and oil imports from Iran. Imports from Iran can be key to Turkey’s energy security, helping it diversify away from overwhelming dependence on Russian natural gas. Turkey imports 2/3 of its natural gas from Russia, according to the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources. It imports 97.3% of its natural gas, and 93% of its oil.

Beyond meeting domestic demand and energy security desires, Turkey would like to improve its access to multiple sources of energy from throughout the Middle East and Central Asia in order to position itself as an energy hub. This is clearly indicated in Turkey’s latest five year energy and natural resources plan.

Turkey could then transit energy through its territory from its southern and eastern neighbours to energy consuming Europe. This transit infrastructure is to rely on pipelines, highways, and the Ceyhan port on the Mediterranean.

Its real options for sourcing such an energy corridor are Russia, Iran, Iraq, and under the Caspian Sea through Azerbaijan then Georgia or Armenia. The Caspian route will also be greatly facilitated if it has Iranian cooperation since Iran and other Caspian countries have been long negotiating how to collectively manage that body of water since the fall of the Soviet Union.

An alternative to the Caspian Sea route that Turkey seems interested in as well is to have gas pass from Turkmenistan, through northern Iran, to Turkey. Such an option would greatly facilitate access to rich deposits of natural gas in Central Asia. A submarine pipeline running under the sea would require the cooperation of many more countries via contested waters. Azerbaijan, Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Iran are engaged in protracted negotiations regarding how to collectively manage the Caspian Sea and how to finalize their individual zones of influence.  The submarine route would also be a lot more vulnerable to future disruption.

Turkey wishes to diversify its energy imports in order to maximize its energy security and maximize the potential of turning itself into an energy hub. Turkey’s recent energy and natural resources five year plan states that, “great importance is given to the improvement of the diversification of resources, technologies and infrastructure. For this reason, the oil and natural gas exploration operations both at home and abroad have been intensified in the recent years and these shall also be continued increasingly within the period of the Plan.” (p. 13)

Turkey has, in the new millennium, shown notable examples of greater independence from US dominance of NATO. I think this has been the result of various outcomes throughout the past decade.

The war in Iraq, which was seen as an unjustified and illegal war of aggression undertaken by the US, NATO’s leader, certainly served as a catalyst. The US tried to convince NATO allies, among others, to join it in a ‘coalition of the willing’. This didn’t play too well as an example of NATO’s new post Cold War direction and helped give voice to a more independent Turkish policy.

I think the war in Afghanistan has also had an impact in drawing Turkey’s gaze to events in the region of Central Asia, where a great number of cultural similarity (in that it is an older home to Turkic peoples prior to their migration to the Republic of Turkey) has raised ideas of the origins of Turkish identity prior to their push for Westernization by way of integrating some aspect of European identity. I don’t think that this trend is in fact what some have called pan-Turkish sentiments. It is simply a greater curiosity of their non-European roots coupled with an interest in seeing how this may be used to exert influence in the energy rich Central Asian region.

We must not forget the continued failure of the project to have Turkey be accepted as European and enter the EU. It is becoming increasingly clear that the EU is not interested in Turkish accession, and that a central component of European resistance stems from their perceiving the Turks as eternally non-European.

This notion of a difference in culture between Europe and Turkey has been quite unflattering and even at times publicly racist. Interestingly, the move to further democratize Turkey (namely to apply a representative form of democracy that is rooted in a framework of institution legality) has been disempowering the ‘deep state’ under the leadership of the military, thus eroding these leaders’ ability to push for the Westernization of Turkey.

Public opinion has also indicated at least significant strains of caution and resistance to turning the national identity into a ‘Western’ one. This resistance includes opposition to the West’s wars in that neighbourhood (Iraq and Afghanistan), as well as opposition to Western governments’ support of Israel following that country’s most recent invasions of Lebanon and Gaza.

Also, Europe is really waning politically and economically. It has essentially bent knee to the US politically, which I think many in Turkey would see as less incentive to join that bloc since they wanted to join in order to gain greater influence internationally not to be bound in a structure of subservience. Further, Europe’s economy continues to falter, and if Turkey was to join the EU it would be one of the only countries in that bloc with consistent and significant economic growth. It would also be the only EU country with a significant military to speak of. Yet, it is clear that it would remain an isolated member in the unlikely case of the EU taking it in, so Turkey feels even more indignant given this scenario. Why be, on paper, one of the most robust EU members yet be isolated by others who antagonistically see themselves as techno-economically and culturally superior? Turkey is no fool, it realizes that Europe has a significant degree of vulnerability to it as a gateway to the east, and if the West is stagnating why sell yourself short?

Iran, meanwhile, has significant domestic reserves of hydrocarbons, is positioning itself as an energy transit hub (though the success of this plan remains to be seen), and can also serve as a gateway to Central Asian energy and politics.

Regarding the development of nuclear technology, Turkey, the UAE, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia are planning to set up their own facilities and have signed agreements with the US or Europe to this end. I think they realize it would be seen as so very hypocritical if they gave Iran no possibility of access to a civilian nuclear program. Turkey resides within the Middle East after all and it is not as easy to fool their own population about the fact of burgeoning nuclear programs in that region. After all the average person tends to know more about their neighbours than say someone an ocean and a continent away.

Turkey’s five year energy plan

May 14, 2010 4 comments

Turkey's planned and developed gas corridor. (Source: US EIA -

Turkey’s Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources has published a strategic plan for 2010 to 2014 indicating the country’s aims at improved energy security while taking advantage of its geographic location to position itself as an energy transit hub. The goal is to reduce its vulnerability to potential volatility in the import of hydrocarbons such as oil and natural gas for which it relies on much of its energy needs.

The plan seeks to lessen Turkey’s import dependence, not simply by way of tapping into the national energy resources (which are very limited), but by having a renewable energy infrastructure, increasing the use of coal powered generators (which are less susceptible to fluctuations in price and availability), and diversifying its imports so that it is not so dependent on one country (namely Russia) for its energy imports. Turkey imports 2/3 of its natural gas from Russia.

The plan recognizes Turkey’s very limited hydrocarbon capacity: “In the year 2008 the total primary energy consumption of our country has been 108 million Ton Equivalent Petroleum (TEP), and its production has been 29 million TEP.” (1)

Turkey depends on imports of natural gas for about 97.3% of its needs. It produced 1 billion m3 in 2008, and consumed 36 billion m3 in the same year. Only five countries supply it with its natural gas. Russia has been the dominant source between 2001-2009, followed by Iran, Azerbaijan, and Algeria.

To provide it with additional cushion in case of supply of price volatility, Turkey plans to expand its natural gas storage capacity from 2.1 billion m3 (2008) to 4 billion m3 (2014)

Furthermore, Turkey depends on imports of oil for 93% of its needs (2008).

Diversification, in the case of Turkey, means diversifying the country’s imports as well as varying the types of energy it consumes, so that if there is trouble with one source of energy (say natural gas or oil), the incident does not cause as great a disturbance as it otherwise might.

This interest in diversification is tied to a desire for economic and energy security. For this reason, it is interested in renewable energy such as wind, geothermal, and hydroelectric dams. So, we see that a component, perhaps a dominant component, of the interest in renewable energy is tied to national security, so that a country like Turkey would seek to establish domestic electricity production using what little options it has, which in this  case falls on renewable sources since it has no serious deposits of hydrocarbons.

By end of 2009, the country had enough domestic oil reserves to meet only one year’s worth of consumption, and natural gas reserves for two months.

The desire to diversify energy has also led the ministry to encourage the growth of coal power. The ministry estimates that only 32% of the potential electricity production based on domestic coal resource availability has been actualized. Over the period of the plan, Turkey plans to complete a number of coal thermal plants, totaling 3,500 MW of additional electricity supplied by 2014.

A central goal of improving the country’s energy security then is to increase the share of domestic generated electricity from hydroelectric dams and coal power plants. Turkey also plans to construct its first nuclear power plant, with an aim to have nuclear energy provide some 5% of total electricity by 2023. The plan indicates a goal to add an additional 5,000 MW to the grid from new hydroelectric projects by the year 2014. It also includes what might be a very ambitious aim of increasing the share of wind power from 802.8 MW (2009) to 10,000 MW by 2015.

According to Turkey’s General Directorate of State Hydraulic Works, hydro power supplied from southeastern Anatolia has provided some “45% of overall hydroelectric generation” to date. (2)

Turkey seeks to become an energy corridor, siphoning natural gas and oil from its south (Iraq), east (Iran, Caspian Sea basin, Central Asia), and northeast (Russia), to Europe. For this it seeks bilateral and multilateral agreements with countries of the affected region.

Turning the country into an energy hub is taking advantage of Turkey’s geostrategic location. The plan states that “Turkey is positioned in a geography where about 72 percent  of the proved oil and natural gas reserves of the world are buried, especially at the Middle East and the Caspian Basin. In the period by 2030, the world’s energy consumption is projected to rise by 40 percent  and is anticipated to be covered to a significant extent from the resources in the region where we are positioned.” (3)

To this purpose, the ministry focuses on the importance of turning the port city of Ceyhan into an “an integrated energy terminal where various quality and feature of crude oil may be offered for international markets, and where a refinery, petrochemicals facilities and liquefied natural gas (LNG) exportation terminal will be available.” (4)

Ceyhan is part of an existing energy corridor that went into operation in 2006. The Baku-Tblisi-Ceyhan (BTC) Crude Oil Pipeline transfers oil from Azerbaijan through Georgia to Turkey. From 2006 to 2009 oil loaded onto sea transports from Ceyhan totaled 800 million barrels.

Turkey also seeks to import electricity for exporting across its territory by linking up its transmission network with that of neighbouring countries.

The feasibility of the desire to turn Turkey into an energy corridor is in question. It needs to tap into proven reserves of hydrocarbons enough to provide for the markets in Europe. For this, it would need to lay down infrastructure to these regions by competing with or coming to agreements with potential suppliers in Central Asia and the Middle East as well as dealing with the main overland corridor that currently runs through Russia.

One of the key aims, according to the strategic plan, is “Aim-4: Making the free market conditions operate fully and providing for the improvement of the investment environment.” (5) The way was paved for the liberalization/privatization of the energy sector by way of the Electricity Market Law (2001), the Natural Gas Market Law (2001), the Oil Market Law (2005), the Liquified Petroleum Gases Law (2005), and the Market Law (2005).

The plan estimates that the total investment required in the energy sector is more than $120 billion by 2020. Theoretically, privatization is supposed to help bring private investment on-side.

The public sector is stepping back from directly creating electrical capacity, wanting the private sector to take the lead. Since the passing of key privatization laws starting in 2001, 12,850 MW of new capacity has been generated between 2002 to 2009, 7,000 MW of which was due to private sector construction.

The ministry has also been moving toward deregulating the pricing model of the energy market. Free floating pricing has increased from nearly 30% of the electricity market in 2004 to 50% in 2009.

The ministry’s view of consumers is interesting here, integrating the language of liberal economics into their perception of what are persons, now identified as “natural or legal persons” (individuals or corporations). This has an impact on the emerging role of corporations as empowered legal person within the framework of a liberalized political and economic model, giving them many of the rights generally reserved for individual citizens under law. One of the main advantages posited here for consumers is the freedom to choose between various distributors, and it is assumed that this will lead to competition that will increase efficiency in generation and distribution, and also reduce prices. This assumption though has not led to this fact in many cases of partial or near full privatization around the world such as in Canada’s province of Ontario, and within the US, where prices have often increased and supply has not matched demand.


(1) “The Republic of Turkey Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources Strategic Plan (2010-2014)“, p. 12.

(2) Accessed May 13, 2010

(3) “The Republic of Turkey Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources Strategic Plan (2010-2014)“, p. 29.

(4) Ibid., p. 31.

(5) Ibid., p. 22.

Categories: Asia-Pacific, Editorial, Energy Tags: ,
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