The Iranian ship Makran and accompanying frigate Sahand appeared on Friday en route northwest in the Atlantic Ocean, Politico quoted a defense official as saying.
The United States is tracking the two Iranian navy ships, which may be on their way to Venezuela, and possibly transporting weapons.
And last summer, a report sparked concern in national security circles in Washington, as Venezuela was considering a new arms deal with Iran that could include long-range missiles capable of reaching the United States.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, whose legality is being challenged, joked that the purchase was a “good idea”. But the administration of former President Donald Trump has warned Caracas, particularly threatening to eliminate any long-range missiles.
Today, US officials worry that the two ships, which are slowly navigating the Atlantic, maybe carrying the weapons Venezuela was allegedly eyeing a year ago.
Now, the administration of President Joe Biden is warning Caracas, saying so ominously that the United States will take “appropriate measures” if necessary.
In response to a report from Politico, a senior Biden administration official said the United States believes the ships may carry weapons agreed in the alleged deal between Venezuela and Iran last year.
The official did not specify what types of weapons might be on board or whether the United States considered the fast attack boats a “weapon.”
The official also did not say whether the weapons posed a direct threat to the United States, but said they could pose a threat to America’s partner countries in the hemisphere.
“Iranian arms were sold one year ago under the previous (US) administration, and like many situations regarding Iran under the previous administration…we are working to resolve it through diplomacy,” the senior Biden administration official said.
“We reserve the right to take appropriate measures in coordination with our partners to deter the transit or delivery of such weapons,” he added.
And last Thursday, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, in response to lawmakers’ questions about the ships, said, “I am very concerned about the proliferation of weapons, any kind of weapon, in our region,” becoming the first member of the Biden administration to speak publicly on the issue.
“It is not 100 percent clear what the two Iranian ships are carrying — although there is some photographic evidence that the shipment may include fast-attack boats that can be armed and that Tehran has repeatedly used to harass American ships in the Persian Gulf,” Politico says.
Much of the payload has been covered, which makes officials and analysts speculate.”
It is also unclear how far the United States will go to stop the two ships other than to pursue quiet diplomacy and issue public statements.
Politico says that the closer the two ships, it becomes clear that Iran and Venezuela want to know the reaction of the new US administration, although Biden has indicated that he may lift some sanctions on both countries.
“They are testing the new administration to see what it is doing,” said Eddie Acevedo, a former Republican congressional aide who specializes in Latin American and Middle Eastern issues and now works with the Woodrow Wilson Center. with the Venezuelan opposition.
Tehran is in talks with world powers to revive the 2015 nuclear deal in Vienna. In 2018, Trump withdrew from a 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.
What is also clear, according to Politico, citing some analysts and former US officials, is that “Tehran and Caracas continue to expand their bilateral relations and military cooperation in the face of American hostility.”
For Venezuela, whose economy has largely collapsed under Maduro, Iran is a useful resource for everything from gasoline to groceries, as well as advice on how to avoid US sanctions.
Last year, Iran began sending fuel tankers to Venezuela to help alleviate a severe gasoline shortage there. Both Iran and Venezuela are under the weight of US sanctions.
Three informed sources told Reuters in February that Venezuela was sending shipments of jet fuel to Iran in exchange for gasoline imports that it needs, as part of a barter agreement reached by the two state-owned oil companies in the two countries.
For Iran, whose hostility to America goes back more than 40 years, the connection with Venezuela is another way to challenge Washington in its own hemisphere while promoting its Shiite Islamist ideology outside the Middle East, according to Politico.
In recent years, US officials have grown increasingly concerned about the influence of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and the Tehran-backed Hezbollah militia in Venezuela.
Emmanuel Ottolenghi, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said Iran wants to say to America, “You’ve been active in the Strait of Hormuz and the Persian Gulf for the past four decades, we’re going to do the same.”
As of Friday, the two Iranian ships appeared on their way to the northwest in the Atlantic Ocean, according to a defense official.
The Makran, a former oil tanker converted into a forward staging base, and Sahand, the newest Iranian frigate, was spotted about 6,437,376 km from Venezuela.
On the other hand, Iranian officials confirmed that the two ships were in the Atlantic Ocean. While the United States, in particular, has urged Venezuela, Cuba, and other countries in the region to refuse to allow the ships to dock, people familiar with the matter said.