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ANKARA: Washington will monitor trade between its NATO ally Turkey and Venezuela in case gold sanctions on Caracas are violated.

Reuters quoted a senior US official on Thursday, who called the issue a “hot potato” which was raised during a meeting of the US Treasury’s assistant secretary for terrorist financing, Marshall Billingslea, and Turkish officials in Ankara on Friday.

The head of  the Turkey-Venezuela Parliamentary Friendship Group, Serkan Bayram, said that Turkish trade with Venezuela would continue despite US sanctions.

“Our businesspeople will continue to develop trade relations. Such a decision falls under our sovereignty, and it is in our national interest to do business with Venezuela,” Bayram told Arab News.

“Turkish trade with Caracas is in line with international norms and regulations. All our transactions with a democratically elected country are conducted openly, under the international community’s eyes,” he added.

According to official figures, Turkey imported precious metals worth in excess of $900 million from Venezuela in 2018 — having imported none in 2017 — and Ankara now ranks among the largest importers of Venezuelan gold.

However, in November, Washington imposed sanctions on gold sales from the South American country, following accusations of government corruption and human rights violations.

In the face of international pressure, Caracas is now shifting toward Turkey, desperate for new trading partners to help prop up the country’s deteriorating economy.

In a visit to Caracas in December last year, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, an ally of Venezuela’s incumbent leader, Nicolas Maduro, criticized the sanctions on Venezuela. “Political problems cannot be resolved by punishing an entire nation. We don’t approve of such measures that ignore global trade rules,” he said.

On a visit to Turkey two weeks ago, Venezuela’s minister of industries and national production, Tareck El Aissami, toured the Anatolian town of Corum, where Turkey refines most of its imported Venezuelan gold.

Cem Barlas Arslan, a legal expert from Kirikkale University, told Arab News: “From the perspective of international law, countries may implement sanctions through customs levies or similar foreign trade instruments, like the US has done to China, Russia, Iran and even Turkey.

“In this tense trade war, Ankara has two options: Either it minimizes all trade relations with Venezuela, or increases the trade in gold,” he added.

Close relations between Ankara and Caracas are likely to strain relations between Turkey and the US if the latter insists on enforcing sanctions on Venezuelan gold, as has previously happened between the two over US sanctions on Iran.

However, Karol Wasilewski, an analyst at the Warsaw-based Polish Institute of International Affairs, disagrees that there is a direct comparison.

“Although it may seem that, in Venezuela, Turkey is trying to repeat the ‘Iran’ approach, for now we lack evidence that it has substantially violated American sanctions,” he told Arab News.

“Diplomacy between Turkey and US has been so intense that I think both countries will sort the issue out, especially if the US decides to use the leverage it has over Turkey in terms of its economy and role in Syria.” 

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