ANKARA, Sep 19 (Reuters) The United States today called on countries, including Turkey, to trim their business ties with Iran to pressure Tehran to return to the negotiating table over its nuclear programme.
Iran has defied diplomatic pressure led by the United States and European allies to halt uranium enrichment. Major powers are due to meet in Washington on Friday to discuss a third Security Council resolution to toughen sanctions on Tehran.
Washington is concerned by NATO ally Turkey's announcement that it planned to boost energy cooperation with Iran and invest 3.5 billion dollars in its South Pars gas field starting next year.
''We do not think it makes sense to announce long-term oil and gas deals at a time when Iran is going ahead with nuclear weapons research,'' US Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns told reporters during a visit to Ankara.
''Business as usual is not the right policy because business as usual allows Iran to escape pressure we think is needed to convince Iran to come to the negotiating table,'' he said.
''We are not signalling out Turkey for criticism or attention. This is a general US and West European message to many other countries,'' he said ahead of talks with Turkish senior officials expected to focus mainly on Iran.
He said US businesses had made sacrifices by not doing business with Iran and other countries should follow suit.
European officials say new EU investment in the Islamic republic is already dwindling because of the political risk and lack of finance for major projects, and exports to Iran are falling as governments and banks cut back trade credits.
The 27 EU countries exported goods worth 12.99 billion euros to Tehran in 2005, 11.27 billion euros last year and 4.66 billion euros in the first half of this year, according to the EU statistics office Eurostat.
The biggest exporters were Germany, Italy and France. But in each case, the volume of trade is declining, the figures show.
Western powers led by the United States accuse Iran of using a purported nuclear power programme as a screen for development of nuclear arms -- something they fear could add enormously to instability in the already volatile West Asia. Iran denies the charges.
REUTERS SG RK2032