‘Ripe for a showdown’: As Iranian tankers close in, the stakes are rising in Venezuela

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro speaks at a press conference at the Miraflores Presidential Palace in Caracas, Venezuela, Thursday, March 12, 2020. Maduro has suspended flights to Europe and Colombia for a month, citing concerns for the new coronavirus. Maduro added in a national broadcast that the illness has not yet been detected in Venezuela, despite it being confirmed in each bordering country, including Colombia, Brazil and Guyana.  (AP Photo/Matias Delacroix)

Iranian tankers are heading to Venezuela with much-needed gasoline, a shipment the US has warned it may take action against.
Venezuela has found common cause with regimes that oppose the US, like Iran, Russia, and China.
The return of “great-power competition” has raised the stakes of the crisis in the South American country.
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The arrival of Iranian tankers carrying gasoline to Venezuela will be another link between two of the Trump administration’s most implacable foes, but the exchange and the response underscore Venezuela’s growing role as a venue for competition between the US and its rivals.

The first of the five tankers will arrive in the next few days and the rest by early June. Their 1.5 million barrels of gasoline are enough for 52 days in Venezuela, where coronavirus-related restrictions have reduced fuel consumption, according to Venezuelan economist Francisco Rodriguez.

Venezuela needs gas because mismanagement of its oil sector, exacerbated by US sanctions, has diminished supply. Iran, which has supplied materials to help restart Venezuelan refineries, needs to ease a fuel glut caused by declining global demand and strict US sanctions on its exports.

The US has said it is “looking at measures that can be taken” in response to the shipment. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Saturday that if Iranian tankers in the Caribbean or elsewhere “face trouble caused by the Americans,” then the US “will also be in trouble.”

US officials told The Wall Street Journal this week that they were still weighing a response. Some reportedly argued the US should only act if the shipments become a regular occurrence. Others advocated confiscation through legal means or direct intervention with military forces in the Caribbean, where the US has a number of ships and aircraft deployed for a counter-narcotics campaign announced in April.

At a UN Security Council meeting Wednesday, Russia said that the campaign was “troubling context.”

“What is the real aim of the American navy parade in the Caribbean?” a Russian official said. “We also hope Washington fully realizes the risks of incidents when deploying [Navy destroyers] USS Lassen, USS Preble, and USS Farragut in an area where Iranian oil tankers are involved in legal activity near Venezuela.”

Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said Thursday that he was not aware of any operations or plans in relation to the oil shipment, which he said was a violation of sanctions on Iran and Venezuela and an issue of “global concern.”

Adm. Craig Faller, head of the US military command responsible for the region, declined to address the tankers on Monday during an online event hosted by Florida International University, saying only that he viewed “Iranian activity globally and in Venezuelan in specific as a concern.”

Venezuela’s defense minister said Thursday that the country’s navy and air force would escort the tankers once they reached Venezuela’s exclusive economic zone, which extends 200 miles from its coast. At Security Council meeting Thursday, Venezuela’s ambassador …read more

Source:: Business Insider


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