ANKARA: Turkey is talking to Libya, Saudi Arabia and Russia about buying more of their oil to make up for a shortfall in crude imports from Iran due to a Western embargo, Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz told Reuters on Wednesday.
Yildiz said Turkey had started buying oil from Saudi Arabia on the spot market in addition to purchases from Libya, and that its sole refiner Tupras hoped to reach an agreement with Riyadh on long-term import contracts later this year.
"One of our core strategies is to increase the number of supplier countries and alternative routes. We buy oil from 11 countries and natural gas from five. We aim to increase that to 13, or 15 if possible," Yildiz said in an interview.
"We bought 1 million tonnes of oil from Libya and have also started spot buying 1 million tonnes from Saudi Arabia. Tupras is in talks with Saudi Arabia over long-term contracts and I think they'll conclude this year," he said.
Western sanctions aim to curb Iran's ability to pursue its nuclear ambitions by cutting off its main revenue stream from crude oil sales.
The United States gave several countries sanction waivers after they cut imports prior to the imposition of the full embargo. Turkey was granted a 180-day exception from sanctions from June 11 as a result of an initial 20 percent cut.
"I don't expect we will need to lower the amount of oil we buy from Iran again this year," Yildiz said, when asked how much further Turkey would need to cut Iranian imports in order to win the right to continue importing in 2013.
A U.S. diplomat said in June that Washington would press Turkey to follow up on that initial cut with a further cut once the 180-day period ran out.
Around 200,000 barrels per day (bpd) of Iranian crude were discharged at Turkey's import terminals Aliaga and Tutunciflik in August, data from a shipping source and AIS Live ship tracking on Reuters showed earlier this month.
That was a four-fold increase from Ankara's imports of Iranian oil in July of 48,000 bpd, a two and a half year low.
"There may be fluctuations on oil purchases, but Iran remains one of our most important suppliers," Yildiz said.
Turkey is importing 20-30 truckloads of crude oil a day from Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan in exchange for diesel and the volume is expected to increase further, Yildiz said.
Kurdistan and the central Iraqi government are locked in a battle over oil exports and energy policy has become a sensitive topic. Kurdistan has not been getting enough refined oil products to run its power stations under supplies controlled by the central Iraqi government, regional sources have said.
Turkey, which shares a border with Kurdistan, has courted Iraqi Kurds as its relations with the Shi'ite-led central government in Baghdad have soured. Turkey is a major investment and trading partner for Iraq, especially for Kurdistan.
Yildiz said Turkish national oil company TPAO might participate in partnership with foreign firms in Iraq's next round of oil exploration tenders, but gave no further details.
OPEC member Iraq is expected to be the world's biggest source of new oil supplies over the next few years. It plans to open up more rounds for oil and gas blocks for auction as it looks to attract more foreign investment to develop its energy sector following decades of war and economic sanctions.
In previous auctions, Iraq has offered foreign companies less attractive service agreements - where they are paid a fee - rather than production-sharing deals that allow them to profit jointly from the output.
Yildiz said Turkey would decide soon on who will build a second nuclear power plant planned for its Black Sea coast, and that it would begin work on plans for a third plant next year.
Turkey has no nuclear energy plants at present but has ambitious plans to build them over the next decade in order to reduce dependence on imported oil and gas.
It plans to build a first nuclear plant on the Mediterranean with Russia's Rosatom.