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The two countries, both of which face severe US sanctions, have developed closer ties in recent years, with collaborations ranging from gasoline deliveries to joint auto and cement plant projects.
Senior officials in the government of President Nicolás Maduro in Caracas According to a person familiar with the discussions, it was suggested that including the Iranian warships would be a mistake. But it’s not clear whether Maduro heeded this warning: At some point on Thursday, US military officials understood the ships had turned, but on Friday morning they were still steaming south, one of the people said.
Legislators, who are familiar with the most sensitive intelligence information, have been briefed in recent days that the US believed Iranian ships could go to Venezuela, but warned that the destination could change, according to a person who overlooked the matter has been informed.
The mere presence of Iranian warships in America’s back yard would call into question US authority in the region – and likely ignite the debate in Washington over President Joe Biden’s decision to resume negotiations with Tehran.
Iranian media has claimed that the 755-foot-long Makran, which went into operation this year, can serve as a platform for electronic warfare and special operations. and Iranian officials boasted of the ship’s missile and weapon capabilities. It was said to be able to transport six to seven helicopters and drones.
A spokesman for the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry declined to comment. A spokesman for the Iranian UN mission declined to comment. And White House and Pentagon spokesmen declined to comment.
The timing of Iran’s apparent westward thrust is particularly unfavorable for those hoping to ease tensions with Tehran.
Since taking office, Biden has explored how to join the 2015 deal to contain Iran’s nuclear program, the joint comprehensive plan of action that his predecessor Donald Trump abandoned in 2018. These talks are ongoing in Vienna. The recent fighting between Israel and the militant Hamas, long supported by Iran, has also fueled criticism from Republican lawmakers for the wisdom of a re-entry into the JCPOA.
Successive governments in Tehran and Caracas have made it a habit to defy the United States, with which each country has a complex history. The Venezuelan government was one of the first to recognize the Islamic Republic after the overthrow of the Shah, a US ally in the Middle East, in 1979.
Tehran regularly protests against the presence of US warships in the Persian Gulf region and has previously threatened a similar show of force in America’s backyard, but never pulled through.
Maduro’s authoritarian regime has been shunned by many countries, including its Latin American neighbors. The US has successively imposed tougher rounds of sanctions that have punished an economy already battered by mismanagement, corruption and Covid. Iran is one of Venezuela’s few close allies.
With Venezuela’s oil refining sector collapsing in recent years, the Islamic Republic has sent several fuel tankers into the country to help with crippling gas shortages. In return, Venezuela’s government has provided Tehran with much-needed cash and helped establish relations in Latin America.
US officials have observed these links with varying degrees of concern.
In December, The supreme commander of the US troops in Central and South America described the growing military presence of Iran in Venezuela as “alarming”. In comments in the Wall Street Journal, Adm. Craig Faller, commander of US Southern Command, said the presence of personnel from Iran’s elite Quds Force Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps was particularly worrying.
The Trump administration called the Revolutionary Guards a terrorist organization in 2019 and killed its Quds Force commander, General Qasem Soleimani, in an air strike in Iraq last year.
Last summer, US authorities seized four ships carrying cargo from Iran to Venezuela, the Journal reported. At one point in their voyage, these ships and five others were on an Iranian intelligence ship, US officials told the newspaper. The ships did not reach Venezuela.