Venezuelan military planes will escort five Iranian tankers carrying much-needed fuel to the Latin American country in defiance of US sanctions on both nations’ oil exports, according to Venezuela’s defense minister on Wednesday.
"We have already contacted the Iranian defense minister. When all those tankers enter our Exclusive Economic Zone, they will be escorted by vessels, tankers and planes of National Bolivarian Armed Forces (FANB), to give them a welcome and say ‘Thank you for such solidarity’," said Venezuelan Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez in Wednesday’s statement.
Five Iranian super-tankers carrying gasoline and other similar products, estimated to be worth $45.5 million, have sailed towards Venezuela, which has been facing acute shortages of gasoline at its refineries.
The fuel shipments were dispatched on the request of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.
The tankers embarked on the long journey to Venezuela from Iran’s coastal city of Bandar Abbas in the Persian Gulf region and traveled around the Arabian Peninsula through the Suez Canal before entering the waters of the Mediterranean Sea, according to data gathered from the ship’s Automatic Identification System (AIS), which helps in tracking the movement of vessels.
The first Iranian tanker is expected to reach the Venezuelan shores on May 25.
Lopez also said his country welcomes Iranian help, which he described as "humanitarian aid, just as we have received it from Russia, China and other countries of the world."
Meanwhile, Maduro told state-run media that "we're ready for whatever, whenever," and thanked Iran for "all the support" for his country despite US threats.
-Oil in exchange for gold
According to media reports, Tehran will receive at least nine tons of gold in exchange for gasolines supplies to Venezuela.
The Latin American country is said to hold some 70 tons of gold, which has become a valuable asset for the country battling its economic woes.
The networking between Tehran and Caracas, however, has not gone down well with Washington, which reportedly deployed a fleet of warships in the Caribbean waters.
A senior official in Washington said in statements last week that the US was considering measures in response to Iran’s shipment of fuel to Venezuela.
Iran, for its part, warned that any "pirate-like" action by the US Navy against the Iranian fuel shipments to Venezuela would trigger a “harsh response”, Iran’s Nour News Agency reported.
The Iranian Foreign Ministry also warned the US against what Tehran termed "foolish action" against Iranian oil tankers and stressed there are no legal restrictions to any trade between Iran and Venezuela.
Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif also sent a letter to the UN Secretary-General, describing the US’ warnings as "illegal, dangerous and provocative threats" and said any action taken would be deemed "piracy" and a "great threat" to international peace and security.
By Sibel Morrow