The Biden administration is warning Venezuela and Cuba to turn away Iranian ships believed to be carrying arms to Caracas, Venezuela, vowing to take "appropriate measures" to deter the "threat" to America and its allies in the West.
As the ships have traveled across the Atlantic Ocean, Caracas is leveraging the situation for relief from U.S. sanctions imposed by the Trump administration, officials told Politico.
U.S. intelligence has evidence one of the ships, the Makran, is carrying fast-attack boats for Venezuela, and satellite images in May showed seven such vessels loaded on to the Makran, according to intelligence and defense officials, Politico reported.
Venezuela and Iran were reportedly working on an arms deal last summer during the Trump administration that including long-range missiles, and aides to former President Donald Trump warned Venezuela leader Nicolás Maduro against the provocative deal.
"The delivery of such weapons would be a provocative act and understood as a threat to our partners in the Western Hemisphere," a senior administration official told Politico in a statement. "We would reserve the right to take appropriate measures in coordination with our partners to deter the transit or delivery of such weapons."
The White House is pressuring Caracas and Havara, along with U.S. allies in the region, through diplomatic channels to not allow the Makran or Sahand to dock, according to two defense officials and a congressional official who spoke to Politico on the condition of anonymity.
Venezuela has been advised though diplomatic channels that desired sanctions relief was "less likely" if the ships were to dock, according to the report.
"The sale of the Iranian weapons happened one year ago under the previous administration and like many situations related to Iran under the previous administration — including the breakout of Iran's nuclear program following the Trump administration's reckless withdrawal from the [Iran nuclear deal] — we are working to resolve it through diplomacy," the official told Politico. "But to be clear, Iran sold weapons to Venezuela over a year ago, which we believe was to test the Trump administration's maximum pressure posture."
That statement was derided by Elliott Abrams, the Trump administration special envoy to Iran and Venezuela, as "petty, political, and far more interested in blaming predecessors than in protecting U.S .national security."
"We all hope diplomacy works," he told Politico. "If it does not, this administration should get ready to act — not ready to blame more and more people for their inaction."
State Department and Pentagon representatives for the Biden administration have not responded to Politico's request for comment.
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