Iranian oil tankers reach Venezuela in defiance of US

The arrival of the fuel shipments represents one in a long series of geopolitical flops for the Trump administration and the close-knit band of Washington hawks who dominate the White House’s scheming over the Middle East and Latin America. “We are not alone,” Captain Luis Somosa Ladea, the commander of the Venezuelan navy patrol ship Yekuana, which was escorting the convoy of tankers, told state television. “We will do what is necessary to guarantee the sovereignty of Venezuela and the tranquillity of the Venezuelan people with the supply of petrol.” For days, current and former US officials had been whispering menacing threats to Washington media outlets, and making ominous predictions that the shipments could be intercepted. “Iran’s attempt to oppose US priorities must be met with resolve.” However, experts said no US ship moved towards the tankers as they made their way across two hemispheres, and the vessels arrived in Venezuelan waters without slowing or diverting from their path. In exchange for the fuel, Iran received about m worth of gold flown by the airline Mahan Air in late April, in a deal that bypasses US sanctions on both countries. Those flights have accelerated in recent weeks as Venezuela seeks to calm popular demands by upgrading its refinery capacity.  Iran’s ambassador to Venezuela has announced plans to increase trade and tourism through the re-establishment of regularly scheduled commercial flights that were suspended a decade ago.  The most important connections between the two countries fall outside normal diplomatic channels, however, with ties being forged between the office of Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, and generals loyal to Venezuela’s president, Nicolas Maduro. Venezuela, holding the world’s largest oil reserves, is importing refined products from the Gulf in what could be seen as a disastrous turn for a country suffering an economic meltdown as a result of US sanctions and years of mismanagement.