Iran Sends Fuel Tankers to Venezuela, Vows ‘Decisive Response’ to US Threats

Crippling US sanctions have caused severe fuel shortages in the Caribbean nation.

May 18, 2020

Tehran has issued a formal warning to Washington over threats to five of its tankers currently en route to Venezuela.

On Sunday, Iran’s foreign minister summoned the Swiss ambassador representing US interests in Tehran, vowing that any hostile action would be met with a “quick and decisive response.”

The vessels, which set sail from the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas, are reportedly carrying at least US $45.5 million in gasoline and other products. One of the tankers, Clavel, is presently sailing through the western Mediterranean, according to data from tracking websites.

Last week, Reuters reported that US authorities are mulling actions against Iran over the latter’s fuel shipments to Venezuela.

The Trump administration has targeted Venezuela with crushing economic sanctions, including an oil embargo blocking fuel exports to the Caribbean country as well as a blanket ban on dealings with Venezuelan state entities.

In recent months, the US Treasury Department has imposed secondary sanctions on two affiliates of Russian energy giant Rosneft, which had been carrying up to 60 percent of Venezuela’s crude output in addition to supplying diesel and gasoline.

Following the departure of Rosneft, Tehran has stepped in to provide fuel as well as technical assistance in repairing Venezuela’s largest refinery, which has been offline since last year’s nationwide blackouts. The Trump administration has likewise threatened Iran over its technical air corridor to Venezuela, calling on other countries to suspend Iranian overflight rights.

Venezuela is currently suffering widespread gasoline shortages, with domestic production hamstrung by US sanctions prohibiting the import of vital diluents and spare parts needed to reactivate the country’s refining capacity.

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The Iranian tankers prepare to cross the Atlantic as Washington escalates its naval presence in the Caribbean.

Last month, Trump mobilized US Navy destroyers and other assets to the Caribbean as part of an “anti-drug” operation targeting Venezuela, considered one of the largest US military deployments in the region since the 1989 invasion of Panama.

In response to US threats, Tehran also sent a letter to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres denouncing “America’s movements in deploying its navy to the Caribbean in order to intervene and create disruption in [the] transfer of Iran’s fuel to Venezuela.”

Following its unilateral withdrawal from the JCPOA nuclear agreement, the Trump administration has reimposed devastating economic sanctions on Iran, which it has tightened amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

A growing chorus of multilateral bodies has called for lifting US coercive measures crippling the pandemic response in Venezuela, Iran, and other nations.