With Iran and Venezuela both under heavy US sanctions, the two countries are natural trading partners. Defying the US, Iran has been selling gasoline to Venezuela in exchange for gold. Now that the UN arms embargo on Iran is expired, President Trump’s point-man for the failed regime-change effort in Caracas says Iran could be looking to sell missiles to Venezuela.
Eliot Abrams, the US envoy for Iran and Venezuela, told Fox News the US would oppose future weapons sales from the Islamic Republic to the South American country. “The transfer of long-range missiles from Iran to Venezuela is not acceptable to the United States and will not be tolerated or permitted,” Abrams said.
An anonymous US official speaking to Fox News took things a bit further and threatened to eliminate any such weapons. “We will make every effort to stop shipments of long-range missiles, and if somehow they get to Venezuela they will be eliminated there,” an unnamed Trump administration official said.
The officials provided no evidence to Fox News that an Iranian arms sale to Venezuela is imminent, just that they suspect it could happen. “Iran has announced its intention to engage in arms sales, and Venezuela is an obvious target because those two pariah regimes already have a relationship,” Abrams said.
US sanctions on Venezuela have had a devastating impact on the civilian population. Before the sanctions, the oil-rich country exported crude in exchange for gasoline, Venezuela’s largest partner being its US refining subsidiary Citgo. US sanctions have made this trade impossible.
Abrams told Fox News that “every bar of gold for Iran is tens of thousands of dollars the Venezuelan people need for food and medicine.” But the gasoline crisis contributes to food shortages in Venezuela, severely hampering food production and delivery. The Iranian fuel is a much needed lifeline for the country.
The US seized Iranian gasoline on four tankers bound for Venezuela earlier this year. Since then, some of the fuel has been discharged in New York and New Jersey. The owners of the cargo say the gas wasn’t owned by Iran and are reportedly pursuing legal action against the US government.
It is not clear exactly how the US seized the fuel shipments. With US sanctions on Venezuela specifically targeting the maritime industry, it is possible the shipowners were threatened with the loss of registration or insurance, which could have been enough for them to comply and sail to a US port.
Despite the US pressure, Iran continues to trade gas for gold with Venezuela. In October, three Iranian tankers carrying gasoline docked in Venezuela.