Turkey will seek a waiver from the United States to exempt its biggest refiner Tupras from new U.S. sanctions on institutions that deal with Iran's central bank, a Turkish energy ministry official told Reuters on Wednesday.
U.S. President Barack Obama signed the new sanctions into law on New Year's Eve, which if implemented fully would prevent most refineries from paying for Iranian crude, the first Western measure that could have serious impact on Iran's oil industry.
The law would strip any financial institution dealing with Iran's central bank from access to the U.S. financial system.
However, the law allows Obama to issue waivers to firms in countries that significantly reduce dealings with Iran, or at any time when it is either in the U.S. national interest or necessary for energy market stability.
U.S. officials have said they will discuss with allies how to implement the law without causing havoc in oil markets.
U.S. ally Turkey gets about 30 percent of its oil from neighbour Iran, and Tupras - Turkey's biggest crude oil importer, owned by its largest conglomerate, Koc Holding - is a big buyer of Iranian crude.
The energy ministry official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said a Turkish energy official would meet a representative of the U.S. embassy in Turkey to learn more about the content of the new U.S. law.
NATO member Turkey has deepened economic and financial ties with Iran in recent years, despite Western efforts to isolate Tehran under sanctions aimed at forcing it to stop work on its nuclear activities.
Turkey's Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said Tupras will continue to buy oil from Iran until there is a new development.
Iran is one of the countries Tupras imports oil from. We have not received information on the new sanctions. Tupras continues to buy oil today, Yildiz told reporters.
Iran said on December 24 it had extended its crude export contract with Turkey for 2012.
Turkey bought 217,000 barrels of oil per day from Iran in mid-2011, or 30.6 percent of its imports, according to the International Energy Agency [ID:nL6E8C215Y], making it the sixth biggest buyer of Iranian crude.
Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu is expected to visit Tehran later on Wednesday for talks on Iran's nuclear programme and developments in neighbouring Iraq and Syria.
Iran has threatened to take action if the U.S. Navy moves an aircraft carrier into the Gulf, Tehran's most aggressive statement yet after weeks of sabre-rattling as new U.S. and EU financial sanctions take a toll on its economy.
The U.S. sanctions and the prospect of new sanctions this month from the European Union appear to be having an impact on Iran's ability to find buyers for its oil at global prices. China, the largest buyer by far of Iranian oil, has cut its purchases for January by more than half from 2011 levels.
(Reporting by Evrim Ergin and Tulay Karadeniz; Writing by Ibon Villelabeitia; Editing by Peter Graff)