One relationship that continues to irk Washington is the growing trade partnership between Iran and Venezuela. The two countries are both under heavy US sanctions and have nothing to lose for violating them.
The US military is now accusing Iran of sending weapons and paramilitary operatives to support Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. Since the Trump administration’s regime change effort spectacularly failed, the US likes to blame Maduro’s success on countries it sees as adversaries.
The top US military commander for Central and South America made the accusation on Wednesday. “We see a growing Iranian influence in there,” Adm. Craig Fuller, the head of US Southern Command, said. According to The Wall Street Journal, Fuller said there was an “alarming and concerning” presence of military personnel from the elite Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Washington has been upset about Iran selling gasoline to Venezuela in exchange for gold, a form of payment US sanctions cannot touch. The US was also angry about an Iranian-owned grocery store that opened in Caracas over the summer.
“We’re concerned about what we see … It’s not just oil shipments, it’s arms shipments as well,” Fuller said. “We saw an uptick in that this year. We are watching the rate of change very carefully.”
Fuller did not specify what weapons he has seen. Considering what a big deal the US makes out of gas shipments to Venezuela, if there were concrete evidence of Iranian weapons going into the country, it would likely be presented.
In October, US envoy for Venezuela and Iran Elliot Abrams told Fox News that Iran shipping weapons to Venezuela “is not acceptable to the United States and will not be tolerated or permitted.” An anonymous US official said Washington any weapons that made it to Venezuela would be “eliminated.”
The US has taken extreme measures to halt shipments to Venezuela before. Earlier this year, the US seized four oil tankers carrying Iranian gas. Since then, some of the fuel has been discharged in New York and New Jersey.