Thu Feb 7, 2013 9:06am EST
* U.S. concerned gold-for-gas trade gives Iranlifeline
* Turkish gold exports to Iran via UAE drying up
* Halkbank to continue Iran transactions, minister says (Adds quotes, background)
By Asli Kandemir and Evrim Ergin
ISTANBUL, Feb 7 (Reuters) – Turkey will not be swayed by U.S. sanctions pressure to halt gold exports to Iran but Tehran’s demand for the metal may fall this year, Economy Minister Zafer Caglayan said on Thursday.
U.S. officials are concerned that Turkey’s gold sales, which allow Iran to export natural gas, provides a financial lifeline to Tehran, which is largely frozen out of the global banking system by Western sanctions imposed over its nuclear programme.
Trade in Turkish gold bars to Iran via Dubai is drying up as banks and dealers increasingly refuse to buy the bullion to avoid sanctions risks associated with the trade.
Turkey has a six-month U.S. waiver exempting it from financial sanctions against Iran, which is due to expire in July.
“We will continue to make our gold exports this year to whoever seeks them. We have no restrictions and are not bound by restrictions imposed by others,” the Turkish minister told reporters.
“There may be a decline in demand for gold exports. This is nothing to do with sanctions. We are not subject to these sanctions until July anyway, but there may be a decline in demand from Iran,” he said.
Caglayan declined to say why he anticipated Iranian demand might fall.
Turkey, Iran’s biggest natural gas customer, has been paying the Islamic Republic for oil and gas imports with Turkish liras, because sanctions prevent it from paying in dollars or euros.
Iranians then buy gold in Turkey, and couriers carry bullion worth millions of dollars in hand luggage to Dubai, where it can be sold for foreign currency or shipped to Iran.