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Iran prepared to send more oil to Venezuela despite US 'threats'

Foreign ministry's announcement comes after Islamic Republic sent five oil tankers carrying 1.53 million barrels of gasoline to Venezuela last week
Iranian-flagged oil tanker Fortune docked at the El Palito refinery after its arrival in Puerto Cabello, in the northern state of Carabobo, Venezuela, on 25 May (AFP /HO/MINCI)
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Washington

Iran will continue sending fuel shipments to Venezuela despite US sanctions on both countries, the foreign ministry has said.

Foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi told reporters on Monday that Tehran was prepared to keep its oil supply chain open with Venezuela, a country which, like Iran, has long been in Washington's crosshairs. 

"Iran practises its free trade rights with Venezuela, and we are ready to send more ships if Caracas demands more supplies from Iran," Mousavi said during his televised address. 

Iran sent five oil tankers to Venezuela last week carrying around 1.53 million barrels of gasoline and petrochemical components. 

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The South American country, which used to boast the world's largest oil reserves, is in desperate need of petrol and other refined fuel products due to hyperinflation, US sanctions, a severe fuel shortage, and the Covid-19 pandemic.

Despite Washington's objection to the shipment, the tankers did not encounter any immediate signs of US military interference, but Venezuelan authorities did describe "threats" from the US over the shipments.

Washington had warned governments, seaports, shippers and insurers that they could face American retaliation if they were to aid the Iranian tankers.

The US recently reinforced its naval presence in the Caribbean, saying the extra forces were deployed for an expanded anti-drug operation. 

"Venezuela and Iran both want peace, and we have the right to trade freely," President Nicolas Maduro said in a televised address last week. 

He also referred to the two countries as "revolutionary peoples who will never kneel down before the North American empire".

Venezuela's fuel shortage and US sanctions

Venezuela's oil sector has been damaged by years of political and economic instability - operating well below capacity since the US imposed sanctions in 2017.

Its refining network is believed to be operating at around 10 percent of its 1.3 million-barrel-per-day capacity. 

The shortage has forced it to rely on imports, but US sanctions limit the sources and types of fuel it can receive.

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Last week, US State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said the Iranian fuel shipments were "a sad reminder of Maduro's hopeless mismanagement".

Venezuela's Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza said in a tweet last week that Iran and Venezuela had "always supported each other in times of difficulty", adding: "Today we see the fruits of the multipolar world."

Earlier in May, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani warned of retaliatory measures against the US if Washington caused problems for tankers carrying Iranian fuel to Venezuela. 

Maduro has withstood more than a year of US-led efforts to remove him and retains the support of the military.

Washington backs Maduro's rival Juan Guaido and considers him to be Venezuela's legitimate leader, while Iran has repeatedly expressed support for Maduro.