Iranian president Hassan Rouhani, warned on Saturday of retaliation against the US if Washington poses problems for tankers carrying Iran’s fuel to Venezuela.
“If our tanks in the Caribbean or anywhere in the world face the problem caused by Americans, they will [the US] there will also be problems, “Rouhani said in a telephone conversation with the emir of Qatar, semi-official news agency Mehr reported.
A flotilla of five Iranian-fueled tankers for petrol-starved Venezuela is nearing the Caribbean, with the first expected to reach the country̵7;s waters on Sunday, according to Refinitiv Eikon monitoring data.
“Iran will never start a conflict,” Rouhani said. “We always have a legitimate right to defend our sovereignty and territorial integrity and serve our national interests, and we hope that Americans will not make mistakes.”
Iran supplies about 1.53m barrels of fuel and alkylates to Venezuela, according to the same governments, sources and calculations made by TankerTrackers.com based on draft levels of vessels.
The shipments led to a diplomatic build between Iran and Venezuela and the US, as both countries were under US sanctions. Washington is considering response measures, according to a senior US official who did not detail any options weighed.
The US recently increased its naval presence in the Caribbean for what it said was an expanded anti-drug operation. A Pentagon spokesman, Jonathan Hoffman, said Thursday that he was not aware of any operations related to Iran’s cargo.
Venezuela’s defense minister said the military will take control of Iran’s tanks once they reach the country’s exclusive economic zone.
Iran seized a British-flagged tank in the Gulf last year after British forces detained an Iranian tanker from Gibraltar territory. Both vessels were released after a one-month standoff.
Venezuela has recently arrested mercenaries, including US citizens, who voted in an operation to kidnap president Nicolás Maduro.
The failed attack provided a propaganda boon for Maduro, who has long claimed the subject of a US-backed plot of proof.