Turkey, Iran Agree To Raise Bilateral Trade To $30 Billion

Turkey seeks to double bilateral trade with neighboring Iran to $30 billion by 2015, a move aimed at strengthening ties with the Islamic Republic despite the new round of Western sanctions against Tehran over its nuclear defiance.

"Iran and Turkey's relations saw a 70 percent rise in 2011 and I hope that new steps will be taken within the framework of the Joint Commission to help increase the trade volume to $30 billion in 2015," Turkey's Environment and Urban Planning Minister Erdogan Bayraktar told a joint economic meeting held in capital Ankara on Thursday.

To achieve the goal, the two countries at a two-day Joint Economic Cooperation Commission signed a Memorandum of Understanding covering areas such as transportation, energy and industry, Turkish media reported.

Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, who led the Iranian delegation at the Commission meeting, said to achieve the $30 billion goal, Iran and Turkey needed to facilitate financial affairs and transactions and implement agreements reached at the Joint Commission.

A NATO ally, Turkey is raising the trade target at a time when the United States ratcheted up pressure on Iran with fresh round of sanctions, and the European Union (EU) expected to support an oil embargo and a freeze on the assets of Iran's central bank.

Turkey has pledged not to comply with the new U.S. sanctions targeting the Iranian oil industry and its financial institutions, saying Ankara is only bound by U.N. sanctions.

Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz had said last week that Turkish Petroleum Refineries Corporation (Tupras), the country's biggest crude oil importer, was continuing its imports from Iran, adding that "as of today there has been no change on our roadmap."

Early in 2009, Turkey had vetoed a U.N.-sponsored sanctions against Iran, saying that the problem should be solved through diplomatic means. It is now mediating to resume a new round of nuclear talks between the Iranian government and G5+1 (five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany).

"The key thing is to start negotiations and ease tensions at once. And Turkey is ready to provide any help or any contributions to the resumption of nuclear talks since it is high time for talks and a settlement," Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said on Thursday at a joint press conference with Salehi.

For his part, Salehi said: "I hope negotiations could be held in Istanbul. It is time for the talks to start if other parties are ready to act sincerely. If there were any excuses on their part, it would mean that they are against or do not endorse negotiations."

Salehi had said on Wednesday that Iran was in touch with world powers to reopen talks that had been stalled for a year, which was quickly denied by Washington and the EU who said they were still waiting for Iran to show it wanted serious negotiations.

"There are no negotiations under way on new talks. We are still waiting for Iran to respond to the substantive proposals the High Representative (Catherine Ashton) made in her letter from October," a spokesman for the EU foreign policy chief said on Wednesday.

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