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Iran, Thailand to get around US sanction

Thailand has suggested barter trade to avoid the United States' economic sanctions against Iran over its nuclear ambitions.

"Trade between Thailand and Iran could not increase for a long time because of the sanctions," Foreign Minister Surapong Towichukchaikul said in Tehran yesterday. "So we have to try other ways to boost our economic relations."

Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi met with Surapong and agreed with the idea, saying he would study the possibility of opening barter trade with Thailand.

Surapong said Thailand could exchange rice for oil and gas. Iran demands more than a million tonnes of rice annually while Thailand is seeking petroleum for domestic energy consumption.

"I think such an arrangement would have no problems with the US sanctions since we won't conduct money transactions through any US entity," he said.

"The Americans should show some sympathy on this issue. Iran needs rice for food while Thailand, which has insufficient petroleum resources, wants energy," he said.

The concept will be thoroughly discussed during the next joint commission meeting in Tehran coming up soon, he said.

Iran consumes about 3.5 million tonnes of long-grain rice annually but can produce only 2.5 million tonnes, he said.

Iran used to order 800,000 tonnes of rice from Thailand annually, but not consistently. The Thai government needs to persuade Tehran to procure rice on a regular basis for Iran's food security, he said.

Two-way trade reached US$1.1 billion (Bt34 billion) last year, of which $985 million was Thai exports to Iran, mainly rice, electrical appliances, minerals and chemical products.

The sanctions, including those from the United States' Western allies and the United Nations, have caused a lot of difficulties for the Iranian economy and investment in the country. Thai investors in Iran said their businesses had not yet been hit directly by the sanctions but Washington was mounting more pressure and expanding sanctions to various industries, which might eventually pinch many Thai businesses.

Some Thai companies here also are preparing exit plans.

Basically, the United States acted unilaterally, Surapong said. Thailand has no obligation to comply with the sanctions, but there would be some problems if Thai firms arranged transactions via US entities.

In 2010, Washington worked to stop PTT selling jet fuel to Iran Air and Mahan Air. Both airlines then reduced flights between Tehran and Bangkok.

Surapong was in Tehran this week for the 16th summit of the Non-Aligned Movement, which brought together leaders and representatives from 120 countries and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

The leaders will mostly focus on global issues such as the Syrian crisis and nuclear disarmament.

Iran, which chairs the NAM for the next three years, will take this opportunity to call for the end of US sanctions over its nuclear ambitions, Surapong said.

He said Thailand took a moderate stance on this controversial issue, calling for joint global governance to ensure permanent peace.

Yesterday, he told the NAM ministerial meeting held two days before the summit that regional and international frameworks had become essential avenues for promoting understanding among nations and achieving mutually desired goals through dialogue and cooperation.

In the context of Iran's nuclear aspirations, Surapong told reporters that Thailand supported the role of the International Atomic Energy Agency in making the situation more transparent.


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