Tensions continue to mount as a five-tanker Iranian fleet sails to Venezuela loaded with an estimated 60 million gallons of gasoline in defiance of US sanctions.
Analysts say the oil was bought with Venezuelan gold, an allegation which Iran denies.
The Venezuelan military has signaled its intent to escort the Iranian tankers delivering the much-needed petrol to the country in an effort to prevent any attempt by the US to stop them. The first of the ships is expected to arrive in Venezuelan waters as early as this weekend.
U.S. sanctions on Iran target anyone purchasing or facilitating the purchase of petroleum products from that country and Venezuela’s oil company is already under similar sanctions.
The Trump administration has also invoked the Monroe Doctrine — the 19th-century policy that rejects outside intervention in the Western Hemisphere — to move against foreign entities that do business with Maduro, the Washington Post reported on Saturday.
“You have two pariah states finding that they are able to exchange things they need for things they have,” Elliott Abrams, U.S. special representative to Venezuela is quoted as saying, in the Washington Post.
The US-backed Venezuelan opposition leader, Juan Guaidó, has said the need to import petrol highlighted the mismanagement of Venezuela’s oil industry by President Nicolás Maduro’s government.
Venezuela has the world’s largest oil reserves, but production has plummeted in the last two decades and the country is in a deep economic crisis.
The BBC reported this week that head of the US military’s Southern Command, Admiral Craig Faller, said he was following Iran’s shipments to Venezuela “with concern”, but played down the possibility of a confrontation.