U.S. monitoring Iranian warships that may be headed to Venezuela

The two countries, both of which face severe US sanctions, have forged closer ties in recent years. The cooperation ranges from gasoline deliveries to joint projects for car and cement factories.

Senior officials in the government of President Nicolás Maduro in Caracas were advised that including the Iranian warships would be a mistake, according to someone familiar with the discussions. However, it is not clear whether Maduro heeded this warning: At one point on Thursday, U.S. military officials understood the ships had turned, but on Friday morning they were still steaming south, one of the people said.

Lawmakers familiar with the intelligence’s most sensitive information have been briefed in recent days that the US believed Iranian ships could head for Venezuela, but warned that the destination could change, one said on the matter Person.

The mere presence of Iranian warships in America’s backyard would pose a challenge to US authority in the region – and likely spark the debate in Washington over President Joe Biden’s decision to resume negotiations with Tehran.

The Iranian media have claimed that 755 feet long macran, which was commissioned earlier this year, can serve as a platform for electronic warfare missions and special operations. and Iranian officials have boasted of the ship’s missile and weapon capabilities. It’s capable of carrying six to seven helicopters as well as drones, they said.

A spokesman for the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry declined to comment. A spokesman for the Iranian mission to the United States declined to comment. White House and Pentagon spokesmen declined to comment.

The timing of Iran’s apparent foray west is particularly inconvenient for those hoping to ease tensions with Tehran.

Since taking office, Biden has been scrutinizing the resumption of 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 group Hamas, long supported by Iran, has also fueled criticism by Republican lawmakers of the wisdom of re-entering the JCPOA.

Successive governments in Tehran and Caracas have made a habit of defying 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 opposes the presence of US warships in the Persian Gulf region and has previously threatened to hold a similar show of force in the American backyard, but it was never carried out.

Maduro’s authoritarian regime has been shunned by many countries, including its Latin American neighbors. The United States has successively imposed tougher rounds of sanctions that have punished an economy already ravaged 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 alleviate gas shortages. In return, the Venezuelan government provided Tehran with urgently needed money and helped establish relations in Latin America.

US officials have watched these links blossom with varying levels of concern.

In December, The Supreme Commander of the US Forces in Central and South America described the growing military presence of Iran in Venezuela as “alarming”. In comments reported by the Wall Street JournalAdm. Craig Faller, the commander of the U.S. Southern Command, said the presence of Quds Force personnel from the elite Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps was particularly worrying.

The Trump administration named the Revolutionary Guards a terrorist organization in 2019 and killed their 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. as the journal reported. At one point in their voyage, these ships and five others were on an Iranian naval intelligence vessel, US officials told the newspaper. The ships did not reach Venezuela.

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