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Jan 17 2019

Turkey and Venezuela's ties likely to grow closer in 2019 - Al Jazeera

Turkey and Venezuela have grown close in recent years, and their relations will likely continue to warm in the coming year as the pair cooperate in a series of deals in defiance of Washington, experts have told Al Jazeera.

"Aiming to diversify its partners beyond its traditional sphere of influence, the Erdogan government is seeking to achieve an economic foothold in Latin America," İmdat Öner, a former Turkish diplomat who served in Caracas, told Al Jazeera.

"Venezuela has been a convenient partner for Turkey to realize its goal to expand the export market in Latin America," he said.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has proven enthusiastic about the prospect of developing more deals with Venezuela. In December he became the first Turkish head of state to visit the country, where he “oversaw the signing of commercial deals reportedly worth $5.1bn,” Al Jazeera’s report said.

Deals between the countries include mineral and energy exploration, defence and finance.

The United States is unlikely to be enthused about Turkey’s proposed investment in Venezuela’s oil industry. U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has discussed a full oil-embargo on Venezuela, which holds the world’s largest proven oil reserves.

However, it is Turkey’s already burgeoning gold trade with Venezuela that may cause more immediate problems. By September last year Turkey had received some $900 million in Venezuelan gold, and observers have likened the trade to the mechanism used a Turkish state bank to break U.S. sanctions on Iran.

Mehmet Hakan Atilla, an executive at Halkbank, was sentenced last year to 32 months in prison for his role in the Iran sanction-busting scheme, which has been called the biggest of its type currently known.

Meanwhile, heavily discounted Turkish food products have been sold to Venezuelans as aid in a kind of “gold-for-food” mechanism that has helped beleaguered Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s administration stay afloat amid unrest caused by severe shortages.

Besides their mutual trade interests, the Turkish and Venezuelan leaders have been brought together by shared perceptions that they have been victims of international pressures, said Mehmet Özkan, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Policy in Washington.

"Turkey feels that both countries face the same international pressure - either military coup attempts or unjustly naming both countries’ leaders as dictators," Özkan said.

Most of the criticisms of the international system coming from Venezuela are similar to those of Turkey. Ankara considers that they both share a similar destiny as they face similar threats, criticisms and issues in global politics,” he said.