Venezuela and Iran have enjoyed a dramatic strengthening of ties over the past two decades, notwithstanding their two very different political, ideological and social systems. Starting in 2019, Iran has been sending fuel and other material assistance to the Latin American nation to help it overcome difficulties caused by crushing US sanctions.
Venezuela and Iran have agreed to further strengthen cooperation against “imperial aggression” targeting the two countries’ people, President Nicolas Maduro has announced after speaking with Iran’s president-elect.
“I had a telephone conversation with Seyed Ebrahim Raisi, President-Elect of the Islamic Republic of Iran. We agreed to strengthen our ties of brotherhood and cooperation to advance in the joint struggle against imperial aggression against our peoples,” Maduro tweeted, accompanying the tweet with photos of him speaking to Raisi on Wednesday.
Raisi handily won Iran’s presidential elections last week, garnering nearly 62 percent of the vote and eliminating the need for a second round. Iran’s strategic partners, including Russia and China congratulated Raisi over his victory, but the United States and Israel blasted the vote, questioning its fairness or characterizing the victor as a “butcher.”
‘Axis of Annoyance’
US officials and think tank analysts in Washington have regularly expressed frustration with the strategic partnership between Venezuela and Iran, characterizing the alliance as an “axis of annoyance” amid Washington’s apparent inability to sanction and threaten the two nations into submission.
The US escalated its pressure against Caracas in early 2019, carrying out what Venezuelan authorities described as a coup attempt, seizing billions of dollars in Venezuelan assets abroad and attempting to halt the export of oil – the lifeblood of the Latin American country’s hard currency earnings.
Iran responded by sending multiple ships filled with gasoline, spare parts and food to Venezuela to ease the pressure, despite being under severe US restrictions itself. Last month, US officials began sounding the alarm about a two-ship Iranian flotilla making its way across the Atlantic toward Venezuela, claiming the ships may include Iranian arms supplies.
Last Thursday, US State Department spokesman Ned Price confirmed that the White House was “monitoring the situation,” and warned that the US was “prepared to leverage applicable authorities, including sanctions, against any actor that enables Iran’s ongoing provision of weapons to violent partners and proxies around the world.”
Price did not specify what makes the Iranian-Venezuelan partnership “violent,” given that Caracas hasn’t waged any wars since World War 2, and Tehran hasn’t provoked a war since 1795.
Furthermore, under international law, Washington does not have any right to carry out any actions against Iranian vessels operating in international waters.