Venezuela: Iranian Tankers Will Get Armed Escort
Venezuela on Wednesday said its navy and air force would escort Iranian tankers arriving with much needed fuel to the gasoline-starved country, after Tehran warned of "consequences" if the US stopped the ships from reaching their destination.
"We're ready for whatever," President Nicolas Maduro told state-run media, thanking "all the support" from its Middle East ally in its confrontation with the United States.
Venezuela has the world's largest proven oil reserves, but its capacity to refine crude into gasoline is limited.
US President Donald Trump's administration has imposed unilateral sanctions aimed at ending oil exports from Iran and Venezuela, both major crude producers. Washington has also sanctioned individual Venezuelans and Iranians.
In early April the US military said it was increasing its vigilance and deploying warships in the ocean near Venezuela, arguing that there was an increase in organized crime.
Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez said that when the Iranian ships enter the oceanic economic zone -- 200 nautical miles from the coastline -- "they will be welcomed" by Venezuelan naval ships and warplanes.
He compared the fuel tankers to humanitarian aid that China and Russia have sent to help Venezuela combat the new coronavirus pandemic.
Neither Maduro nor Padrino said when the ships, which according to press reports number five and sailed from Iran in the past days, will arrive.
Venezuela's economy is in the midst of a free fall, battered by mismanagement, corruption and US sanctions, and with millions of people fleeing as they lack basic goods.
Opposition leader and National Assembly speaker Juan Guaido, recognized by some 60 nations as interim president, claims that Iran was paid with gold illegally extracted from mining camps in the south of the country.
Admiral Craig Faller, head of the Florida-based US Southern Command, said Monday that the United States is following the Iranian actions "with concern," but refrained from any comments on the tankers.
Iran's Fars News claimed Saturday that four US Navy warships are in the Caribbean for a "possible confrontation with Iran's tankers."
The following day Iran's foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif warned Washington against deploying its navy to disrupt the fuel shipments.
Venezuela’s ambassador to the United Nations, Samuel Moncada, also lashed out at the US, saying any attempt to stop the tankers would be illegal.
“Forbidding those boats from reaching their destination would thus constitute a crime against humanity,” Moncada said at a UN Security Council meeting to discuss recent turmoil in Venezuela.