IRAN and Venezuela aren’t the most natural of allies on a superficial level.
One has been a religious, mixed economy government since 1979, while the other has sought socialism since the turn of the millenium.
Yet, with a shared enemy in Washington targeting the two nations, both appear to be strengthening a relationship that once blossomed two decades ago.
Fuel and missiles are on the purchase list for Nicolas Maduro, who said last week: “We are helping each other.
“I think the Iranian experience will help us reinforce our management capacity.”
Colombian President Ivan Duque claimed intelligence had shown that the Maduro administration was looking to buy Iranian missiles.
In a recent Cabinet meeting, Maduro told his defence minister Vladmir Padrino: “Padrino, what a good idea, to speak with Iran to see what short, medium and long range missiles they have, and if it is possible, given the great relations we have with Iran.”
It is not known whether Mr Maduro was being sarcastic in response to Mr Duque’s claims.
But one expert has told Redaction Politics that both parties would be “foolish” to pursue this.
Professor Daniel Hellinger of Webster University said: “As for the prospect of Iran selling missiles than may have capabilities to hit the US mainland, if those missiles were armed it would be a blatant violation of treaties making South America a nuclear free zone.
“While Venezuela may have a sovereign right to acquire arms for its armed forces, it would be a foolish move, giving the Trump administration an excuse to take direct military action against Venezuela.
“Even if Venezuela were to acquire the missiles, US air and naval power could be deployed to quickly take them out.
“Acquisition of more weaponry is about the last thing Maduro should be spending money on given socio-economic conditions in Venezuela.”
However, the veracity of the missile claim is still in doubt, according to Professor Hellinger.
Mr Duque sounded the initial warning over the purchase – but he may have only made the claim for political purposes, rather than some pacifistic cause.
“President Duque himself is in political trouble,” Professor Hellinger told Redaction Politics.
“His credibility is heavily tainted by his close ties with the Trump administration, which of course has a reputation for manufacturing the “facts” it wants.
“Maduro’s expressions of interest may very well be bluster. Buying oil from Iran helps alleviate a grave economic situation.
“Buying medium and long-range missiles will only increase the country’s debt and could provide a convenient excusey for a desperate Trump to target Venezuela militarily for an “October surprise” before the US elections.”
Washington’s sanctions on both nations’ oil industries have hit their respective economies hard, and the Pentagon is likely to keep a watchful eye on growing diplomatic relations between Tehran and Caracas.
The have already started to take action – earlier this month the US Justice Department boasted of its seizure of four Iranian fuel shipments bound for Venezuela.
Yesterday they seized three websites reportedly used as fronts for the oil shipping – but these actions violate the sovereignty of Iran and Venezuela, Professor Hellinger said.
He told this publication: “The sanctions invoked by the United States are not in conformity with Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which lifted UN sanctions on Iran in 2015.
“The US withdrew, and therefore has the right to deny business dealings between its own citizens and companies with Iran, but there is no legal basis for the US to seize the cargo of any ship carrying Iranian goods headed for a port outside the United States.
“Taking the oil off those ships is nothing less than an act of piracy.”
While 2020 has seen a more explicit Iranian presence in Venezuela than in recent years – an Iranian conglomeate opened a retail store in the nation in July – Tehran and Caracas’ relationship stretches back to 2000.
Hugo Chavez was keen to cooperate with Iran in construction, oil and gas, and in infrastructure projects, and former Iranian President Mohamed Khatami was awarded the prestigious Orden del Libertador in 2005.
This relationship carried on under Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s reign, where more than 270 bilateral deals were signed as the pair oaid homage to their shared US opposition.
Maduro himself, then the Foreign Minister, visited Ahmadinejad in 2009, and he has personally maintained an amicable relationship with Iran’s leaders since.
Daniel Hellinger is Professor of International Relations at Webster University and is currently working on the third edition of his text, Comparative Politics of Latin America: Can Democracy Last?
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