Venezuela’s President defends right to ‘freely trade’ with Iran

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Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro defended the right to “freely trade with Iran,” rejecting criticism following a gasoline vessel sent from the Middle East country to aid the fuel-starved South American nation.

The first of an expected five Iranian vessels bringing millions of barrels of gasoline and components have arrived, Maduro said on state TV Sunday. The socialist leader thanked Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei for the deliveries, saying Venezuela has “good and brave friends in the world.

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Maduro defended the deal as part of a previous cooperation agreement. “We, Venezuela and Iran, want peace,” he said. “We have the right to freely trade products throughout the seas of the world.”

The delivery was announced earlier by Vice President for Economy and Oil Minister Tareck El Aissami. “Ships from our sister Islamic Republic of Iran are already in our exclusive economic zone,” El Aissami wrote on Saturday night.

Venezuela’s armed forces escorted the vessel as it entered Venezuelan waters. Iran’s embassy in Caracas also tweeted about the arrival. A second vessel, the Forest, will also soon arrive in Venezuela, Iran’s state TV news reported, without giving more details.

The shipments mark Iran’s latest effort to help Maduro’s regime. Venezuela, home to the world’s largest oil reserves, is nearly out of gasoline following years of mismanagement and US sanctions on its oil. Over the past two months, authorities have imposed rationing at gas stations nationwide, handing control over to military personnel.

The Trump administration is reviewing a host of options to deter Iran’s support for Maduro, according to a person with direct knowledge of the matter. Advisers to the president are urging a measured approach that doesn’t flare up US-Iran tensions over a small supply of fuel, the person said.

Iran’s foreign ministry has said any attempt by the US to stop them will be met with “a swift and decisive response.”

A crew of Iranian technicians is already at work at state-run Petroleos de Venezuela’s Cardon and Amuay refineries, as part of a broader assistance plan that’s brought over workers, supplies and parts in exchange for about 9 tons of gold, or $500 million worth.

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