TEHRAN – Iran claimed on Thursday it would stand by Venezuela amid fresh United States sanctions on five Iranian ship captains who delivered 1.5 million barrels of oil to the Latin American country.
Venezuela, which has been mired in a deep economic crisis for years under the Nicolas Maduro regime, is suffering an oil shortage with long queues forming at gas stations.
“Despite US pressure, Iran and Venezuela remain steadfast in countering unlawful American sanctions,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Musavi said in a Twitter message.
The spokesperson said the sanctions announced by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday were a desperate move and a sign of the failure of Washington’s so-called policy of “maximum pressure” against Tehran.
“The US is sanctioning five Iranian captains who delivered gasoline and its components to Venezuela. No one believes Maduro’s claims of equal and fair gasoline distribution – these rogue regimes must stop squandering their people’s wealth and resources with corrupt schemes,” Pompeo tweeted.
Earlier this week, an Iranian ship arrived in Venezuela allegedly loaded with food, according to Iranian authorities.
The US Treasury retaliated by freezing the assets of the five Iranian captains and blocked them from operating in US waters.
The five captains work for the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines and National Iranian Tanker Co.
Iran sent five fuel-loaded tankers to Venezuela in May despite criticism from Washington and threats to disrupt the trade between two countries that are under heavy US sanctions.
The OPEC country’s oil production has practically collapsed to 70-year lows, adding to a desperate economic situation and as the COVID has rooted in the embattled nation.
The Trump administration frequently targets the Iranian shipping sector for propping up the Venezuelan regime and is actively trying to bring down Iran’s trade and topple the Maduro regime.
The fresh sanctions add to a long list imposed by Washington on Tehran since the US unilaterally abandoned the 2015 nuclear deal signed with Iran and five other powers.
The US backs National Assembly interim President Juan Guaido, who was elected in January 2019 challenging Maduro’s presidency.
In May, Maduro defended his country’s right to trade freely with other countries and thanked Iran “for its solidarity, its support, its courage, its decision.”