Venezuela’s Maduro defends right to ‘Freely Trade’ with Iran

Bloomberg, , and : Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro defended the right to “freely trade” with Iran, rejecting criticism following the arrival of a gasoline vessel sent from the Middle East country to aid the fuel-starved South American nation.

Two of five Iranian vessels bringing millions of barrels of gasoline and components have arrived in Venezuela under military escort since Sunday. The latest entered the Latin American country’s waters on Monday, the Defense Ministry wrote in a tweet.

Socialist leader Maduro thanked Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei for the deliveries, saying Venezuela has “good and brave friends” in the world, according to a TV statement on Sunday. He defended the deal as part of a previous cooperation agreement.

“We, Venezuela and Iran, want peace,” Maduro said. “We have the right to freely trade products throughout the seas of the world.”

The first tanker, named Fortune, is anchored at the state-owned PDVSA El Palito refinery on the Caribbean coast, Vice President for Economy and Oil Minister Tareck El Aissami said.

The shipments mark Iran’s latest effort to help Maduro’s regime. Venezuela, home to the world’s largest oil reserves, is nearly out of gasoline following years of mismanagement and U.S. sanctions on its oil. Over the past two months, authorities have imposed rationing at gas stations nationwide, handing control over to military personnel.

The Trump administration is reviewing a host of options to deter Iran’s support for Maduro, according to a person with direct knowledge of the matter. Advisers to the president are urging a measured approach that doesn’t flare up U.S.-Iran tensions over a small supply of fuel, the person said.

Iran’s foreign ministry has said any attempt by the U.S. to stop them will be met with “a swift and decisive response.”

A crew of Iranian technicians is already at work at state-run Petroleos de Venezuela’s Cardon and Amuay refineries, as part of a broader assistance plan that’s brought over workers, supplies and parts in exchange for about 9 tons of gold, or $500 million worth.

— With assistance by Yoolim Lee, Golnar Motevalli, and Philip Sanders

(Updates with second fuel tanker arriving with military escort)