Iran is growing concerned about the prospect of potential US actions and measures over an Iranian fuel shipment to Venezuela. Yesterday, Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif lodged a complaint with the United Nations warning against the movement of US warships to the Caribbean as Iranian tankers carrying gasoline and other products approach the region. The shipment is part of a larger deal struck between Iran and Venezuela, two nations which the US has imposed oil export sanctions on. Iran also transmitted a warning against any US threat against the Iranian ships, sending the message through the Swiss embassy in Tehran which handles US interests in Iran. On Saturday, Iran’s Fars News reported it had received information that US warships are in the Caribbean for a ‘possible confrontation with Iran’s tankers.’
Iran’s shipment comes as Venezuela is struggling with a major gas shortage. Although US sanctions have strangled Venezuela’s economy, the government of Nicolas Maduro has stubbornly refused to make any concessions to Washington which might ease the restrictions somewhat. Iran is dealing with US sanctions itself and Venezuela is one of the few nations willing to accept Iranian shipments. The formula is simple: Venezuela needs the gasoline, and Iran desperately needs money. The fact that Iran is willing to risk a major US response to this attempt to undermine sanctions speaks volumes of the Islamic Republic’s present condition. The combination of US economic sanctions, domestic unrest, and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have created a perfect storm of sorts, and the future looks bleak, and uncertain for the Tehran regime.
At present, the tankers carrying Iranian products are presently in the Mediterranean and moving west towards the Strait of Gibraltar. It will be some time before they exit the Med, cross the Atlantic, and are prepared to enter the Caribbean. Iran’s behavior in the coming days should offer some indications about Tehran’s plans regarding the shipment to Venezuela.