Iran has gained a foothold at America’s gates and is expanding in South America, experts say, including cultivating close ties with Nicolas Maduro’s government in Venezuela.
“It is not surprising that two of the world’s leading perpetrators of human rights violations have come closer in recent months. All US lawmakers should be deeply concerned about the growing ties between Tehran and Caracas,” warned Bryan E. Leib, Executive. director of the New York-based Iranian Americans for Liberty activist group. “Their aggression cannot be left unchecked and this strengthening alliance affects all freedom-loving members of the free world.”
Tehran’s outreach in the Western Hemisphere has continued for several years, raising alarm among former Trump administration officials. But relations have accelerated to help prop up the Iranian economy against continued US sanctions. It comes as the Biden administration appears to be considering withdrawing some of these measures, as an incentive for the Iranian regime to try to restart negotiations over the nuclear deal.
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“As opposition minister in Venezuela, a country subject to sanctions, I have seen a regime impoverish its people, abuse their most basic human rights, while continuing to live lavishly due to the sophisticated struggle. against sanctions, ”said opposition leader Julio Borges, commissioner for foreign affairs in the Venezuelan interim government.
Venezuela is Tehran’s closest ally in the region and officials say it is serving as a lifeline for the besieged regime by trading oil shipments for jet fuel and gold.
“With the help of a number of regimes that are determined to undermine humanitarian values and the rules-based order, the current regime in Venezuela is smuggling our national gold reserves in exchange for cash and cash. refined petroleum products – impoverishing future generations. “
Iran ships its tankers around the world to maintain its supply line. Reuters recently reported that “jet fuel is being shipped in Iranian tankers that deliver gasoline to Venezuela” and that the two countries “have celebrated Iranian fuel shipments as a method of resisting pressure from their common adversary.” United States.
The US Department of Justice has seized oil from Iranian tankers bound for Venezuela. The oil will be sold and the proceeds, potentially in the millions of dollars, will be distributed to American victims of international terrorism through the United States Fund for Victims of State Terrorism. The program was created in 1996 to pay damages to victims of states that sponsor terrorism in Iran, North Korea, Cuba and Syria.
“Russia is dislodging Venezuelan gold reserves, Iran is providing gasoline and additives for gold, and the UAE is providing silver, in euros for gold. This ‘Others Club’ seems being able to operate with impunity beyond the reach of authority – and in fact includes sovereign states like Iran and the United Arab Emirates working unilaterally together to undermine the American interests that imposed sanctions on the Maduro regime ” , Borges said.
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Opposition leader Juan Guaido has gone so far as to say that the shipments extend beyond petroleum products, to uranium which could be used by Iran to make nuclear bombs.
“The Maduro regime became a crime syndicate when importing oil from Iran. Currently, a preliminary investigation exists into the stocks of uranium in Venezuela and in the countries to which this material could be sent,” said Guaido at the Israel Hayom newspaper. “We believe Iran is one of the main destinations.”
Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke to Guaido earlier this month and the Biden administration recognizes him as the country’s interim president. In addition, a federal criminal complaint filed last week accused 10 Iranian nationals of setting up a two-decade plan to evade US sanctions against Iran, using shell companies in the UAE and elsewhere.
The Justice Department said the group had hidden more than $ 300 million in transactions and cited “US government efforts to disrupt Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s” international financial network “as a reason to try to avoid detection.
In January, the U.S. government said it had raised $ 7 million in Iranian funds for victims of terrorism as part of a $ 1 billion global program using illicit funds owned by Iranians who violated U.S. sanctions.
The Justice Department also acted “to seize money held in a sovereign wealth fund in the United Arab Emirates” as part of the alleged operation. But it was Tehran’s reach in our hemisphere that was of particular concern to policymakers.
“Iran could use some countries in Central and South America as a springboard for operations against Washington and its interests in the region,” a 2019 Atlantic Council study warned.
“There is no constructive role for Tehran anywhere south of the US-Mexico border.”
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“The Biden administration would be wise to rely on the sanctions that were enacted under President Trump because economic sanctions work. Ignoring this or doing nothing will only continue to endanger US interests and our allies in the world. the region, ”Leib said.
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