U.S. warns Venezuela, Cuba to turn away Iranian ships believed to be carrying arms

Source: Politico | June 9, 2021 | Lara Seligman, Andrew Desiderio and Betsy Woodruff Swan

Caracas is trying to leverage the situation to gain relief from U.S. sanctions, officials said.

The Biden administration is privately urging the governments of Venezuela and Cuba to turn away two Iranian naval ships believed to be carrying arms intended for transfer to Caracas, as the vessels make their way across the Atlantic Ocean this week, according to three people briefed on the situation.

A weapons transfer from the Iranian ships to either Venezuela or Cuba would be a provocative move in direct defiance of U.S. warnings. The mere completion of a journey across the Atlantic would be a significant step for Iran’s navy, demonstrating the military’s capabilities after failed attempts in the past.

The White House is pressuring Caracas and Havana over diplomatic channels not to allow the vessels to dock in their countries, said two defense officials and a congressional official, all of whom spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive negotiations. Biden officials are also proactively reaching out to other governments in the region to ensure they will turn away the ships, the congressional official said.

Meanwhile, Caracas is trying to leverage the situation to gain relief from U.S. sanctions imposed by the Trump administration, according to two additional people familiar with the situation. U.S. intermediaries have communicated to Venezuelan officials that letting the ships dock there would make it less likely that the U.S. would provide the country with sanctions relief.

However, Tehran is pushing forward with the journey in the hope of pressuring Caracas to allow the vessels to dock, according to a defense official.

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