IRAN’S recent solicitation of Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro is a deliberate challenge to the US in its own backyard, an expert has said.
Warships and oil tankers have made their way from Tehran to Caracas over the past year, causing some discomfort in the White House.
The most recent expedition – in June, when Iran sent warships to Venezuela – was only diverted after US officials vowed to take “appropriate action”, according to reports.
But the recent diplomatic closeness of the two nations is nothing new – and should just be seen as an uptick in relations at a time where Iran are looking to openly defy the US.
Dr Nader Entessar, an Iranian political scientist, told Redaction Report that the relationship dates back decades.
“Iran-Venezuela relations date back to the 1960s where the two countries, albeit under different systems of government, became among the original members of the newly-established Organization of Petroleum Countries (OPEC),” he said.
“The two countries established a close working relationship with each other at the OPEC level.
“However, the Tehran-Caracas ties remained limited to their OPEC contacts.
“After Hugo Chavez was elected Venezuela’s president in 199, the two countries began to expand their relationships.
“President Chavez first visited Iran in May 2001 with a high-level economic and political delegation. In March 2005, Iran’s president Mohammad Khatami visited Caracas and signed Iran’s first trade agreement with Venezuela.
“This agreement, worth $1 billion covered cooperation between the two countries in such areas as shipping, mining, and oil and gas.
“Iran-Venezuela’s relations grew significantly during Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s presidency (2005-2013).”
As the two nations improved relations year-on-year, some 270 agreements covering a wide range of areas were ratified. It also led to a great friendship between Chavez and Ahmadinejad.
This, according to Dr Entessar, made it “easier for the two countries to expand their relations and cooperate with each other as a countermeasure to American hegemony and hostile posture towards both Tehran and Venezuela.”
Relations diminished initially under Hassan Rouhani as the latter didn’t consider Latin America as any sort of political priority for Iran.
But Trump’s aggression towards Iran – whether it be breaking the JCPOA or threatening military action – forced his hand.
Dr Entessar said: “With Donald Trump’s accession to US presidency and the implementation of his maximum pressure strategy against Iran and Washington’s schemes to undermine Venezuela and overthrow its government, the countries once again began to view each other as twin victims of American aggression and unilateralism and thus took steps to revive their relations to overcome US unilateral sanctions.”
This has led to some ostensibly assertive – but legal – actions between the two nations, with fuel making its way to Caracas. To some in the White House, this may mirror the USSR’s support for socialist nations in Latin America during the Cold War.
“In recent months, Iran has shipped gasoline and fuel to Venezuela using Iran’s ships who sailed under Iran’s flags,” Dr Entessar said.
“Of course, this is completely legal, but the US tried to portray this as an illegal transaction but to no avail.
“Later, the US government claimed that it had seized four foreign ships containing Iranian oil headed for Venezuela.
“This claim was most likely part of the psychological warfare against both Iran and Venezuela. Iranian fuel indeed had been sold to four foreign-flagged ships in international waters near Iran’s coastlines.
“But Iran had already received payment for its oil and thus no longer owned the fuel, nor did it have ownership of the four ships. Most likely, the US concocted the story of seizing (non) Iranian for domestic political purposes. In any case, it is not a secret that Tehran and Caracas do maintain trade relations with each other, which are legal.”
It is the shared fate as US adversaries which means the two have continued to cultivate good relations. While trade levels remain low, Iran’s actions have a symbolic twist in order to send a message to Washington.
Dr Entessar added: “As victims of Washington’s sanctions policy, both have common interests to cooperate with each other when they can.
“In any case, the Iran-Venezuela trade volume remains negligible at this time. I believe the political significance of this relationship outweighs the economic its economic gains.
“For Iran, this relationships designed to signal to the world that Trump’s maximum pressure strategy against Tehran is not working, or at least, Iran is capable to challenge it in a region that Washington has traditionally viewed as its backyard.”
New President Ebrahim Raisi has continued the strategy.
“Iran and Venezuela have common interests and common enemies, and we have always shown that, with resistance and wisdom, we can thwart the plots of the U.S. and global imperialism,” he said in a meeting with Venezuelan Sectoral Vice President for Planning Ricardo Menendez.
Nader Entessar is a Professor Emeritus of Political Science at University of South Alabama.
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