Five Iranian tankers likely carrying at least $45.5 million worth of gasoline and similar products are now sailing to Venezuela, part of a wider deal between the two U.S.-sanctioned nations amid heightened tensions between Tehran and Washington.
The tankers’ voyage came after Venezuela’s socialist leader Nicolás Maduro already turned to Iran for help in flying in chemicals needed at an aging refinery amid a gasoline shortage, a symptom of the wider economic and political chaos gripping Latin America’s one-time largest oil producer.
Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi passed on a message to the Swiss ambassador on Sunday warning against any U.S. threat against the Iranian tankers, according to a report on the foreign ministry website.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif also wrote a letter to U.N. chief Antonio Guterres warning that any American measures against the fuel shipment would be dangerous, illegal and a form of piracy, according to the report on the foreign ministry website.
It remains unclear how the United States will respond to the tankers. On May 14, the U.S. Treasury, State Department and Coast Guard issued an advisory warning the maritime industry of illegal shipping and sanctions-dodging tactics by countries including Iran.
The advisory repeated an earlier promise of up to $15 million for information disrupting the Guard’s finances. It also warned anyone “knowingly engaged in a significant transaction for the purchase, acquisition, sale, transport or marketing of petroleum” faced U.S. sanctions.
U.S. Army Maj. Rob Lodewick, a Pentagon spokesman, declined to comment on the Iranian vessels. He referred questions to the State Department, which did not immediately respond.
Reuters contributed to this report