- “If our tankers in the Caribbean or anywhere in the world face trouble caused by the Americans, they (the U.S.) will also be in trouble.”
- Five Iranian oil tankers are en route to Venezuela to refuel the country, and they are said to be nearing the Caribbean at the current moment.
- Both Iran and Venezuela are undergoing sanctions from the United States, which are hitting hard on their respective economies.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has sternly warned the United States and threatened retaliatory action against Washington should it dare cause any hitches to the transportation of Iranian oil tankers to Venezuela. Rouhani says Iran would never start a conflict but has the legitimate right to defend its national interests, sovereignty, and territorial integrity.
In particular, during a phone call with the Emir of Qatar, Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, the Iranian president reiterated that the Americans would suffer repercussions. “If our tankers in the Caribbean or anywhere in the world face trouble caused by the Americans, they (the U.S.) will also be in trouble,” Rouhani said. The phone call was reported by Iran’s Mehr News Agency.
“Iran will never initiate a conflict,” Rouhani said. “We have always the legitimate right to defend our sovereignty and territorial integrity and to serve our national interests, and we hope that the Americans will not commit an error.”
Five Iranian oil tankers are en route to Venezuela to refuel the country, and they are said to be nearing the Caribbean at the current moment. According to reports, the first tanker, a ship named Fortune and flying the Iranian flag, is scheduled to reach its destination on Sunday, May 24.
The ship has been sailing with its satellite signal on since it left the Suez Canal in early May. The other four ships are following the same Atlantic route as Fortune. In total, Tehran is expected to supply 1.53 million barrels of fuel and alkylate petrol to Caracas.
The Iranian supply caused a diplomatic stalemate between Iran, Venezuela, and the United States, as the two countries are subject to sanctions from the US. According to reports from Reuters, an official from the U.S. government said that Washington is considering taking measures to respond to these violations. The official did not specify what type, however.
On May 21, a Pentagon spokesman, Jonathan Hoffman, said he was unaware of any operation related to Iranian charges, reiterating that, with this transaction, the two countries are clearly violating international sanctions. In addition, the United States recently increased its naval presence in the Caribbean Sea, announcing an expansion of the missions against drug trafficking in these waters.
Venezuelan Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino López said his armed forces will escort the Iranian ships from their entry into the Venezuelan exclusive economic area. Caracas is currently facing a fuel shortage crisis as the state-run refineries Petróleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA) have been unable to supply the stations in the country.
Until last March, Venezuelan refineries have worked at 10% of their capacity of 1.3 million barrels per day. At the moment, PDVSA production is limited to the Amuay plant only, and most units producing alkylate petrol are not in operation. Therefore, Iranian imports could significantly improve the quality of the local fuel.
Due to the spread of the coronavirus epidemic, the Venezuelan government has taken isolation measures, which have resulted in a drastic drop in fuel demand. This has gone from 170,000 barrels per day to around 40,000.
Both Iran and Venezuela are undergoing sanctions from the United States, which are hitting hard on their respective economies, especially given the crisis caused by the ongoing pandemic.
However, direct supply to Venezuela is not Tehran’s first violation of sanctions. On July 29, 2019, Iran seized an English oil tanker in the Persian Gulf, after the United Kingdom had prevented one of its ships from entering Gibraltar on July 5. Following a one-month stalemate, both tankers were eventually released.