David Velasquez Caraballo, the Venezuelan ambassador to Iran, said on August 16 that Venezuela would step up its export of gasoline to Iran. “Every time Tehran announces its demand, we will provide it with gasoline,” said Caraballo.
After a fourth round of UN sanctions intended to force Iran to halt its nuclear weapons program, the United States and the European Union added tougher sanctions targeting Iran’s petroleum industry. While Iran is an oil-producing country, its limited refinement capacity compels it to import gasoline. Because of sanctions, Iran’s gasoline imports have been cut by about half over the past several months. In addition to Venezuela, Turkey, Russia and China have announced their intentions to ignore the US/EU sanctions–indeed, they apparently regard it as a splendid business opportunity as well as an occasion for showing political solidarity with the genocidal mullocracy.
Analysts doubt that Venezuela will be able to follow through, though: Hugo Chavez’s attempt to impose socialism, as could be expected, has hobbled Venezuelan industry, and OPEC-member Venezuela is itself importing oil products.
Meanwhile, Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei declared on August 18 that his country would refuse to negotiate with the United States until it lifts its sanctions: “The respected president (Mahmoud Ahmadinejad) and others have said that we are ready for negotiation. It is right. But not with America . . . The reason is that America does not enter the field honestly as a normal negotiator. They should drop the face of a superpower, they should drop threats, they should drop sanctions and they should not set a goal for negotiation. Then we are ready.”
Iran plainly prefers negotiations as they used to be conducted, i.e., Iran pretended to negotiate while pressing ahead with its nuclear program, and the Western powers did nothing to impede it. The new sanctions suggest that those days are gone.
So US/EU sanctions will continue to bite, despite bravado from Caracas and Tehran, and with luck Obama will resist the temptation to resume useless faux-bargaining. The real significance of the Venezuelan announcement is to highlight the close ties between the illiberal South American regime and the Islamist mullocracy. Both regard themselves as revolutionary centers, not merely normal countries. While one is Communist and the other Islamist–quite divergent ideologies–they are able to unite around their hostility to their common enemy, the United States and the liberal, democratic ethos it represents.
In that connection, US intelligence is concerned about bi-monthly flights between Tehran and Caracas. Iran Air 744 also makes occasional stops in Damascus and Beirut. Offer Baruch, a vice president of International Shield, a security firm in Texas, noted: “If you [a member of the public] tried to book yourself a seat on this flight and it doesn’t matter whether it’s a week before, a month before, six months before — you’ll never find a place to sit there.” Accordng to Baruch, the plane is reserved for the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Hezbolla–folks like that.
There are also concerns that the flight is used to secretly export uranium to Iran. Moreover, Peter Brookes, senior fellow for National Security Affairs at the Heritage Foundation and former deputy assistant defense secretary for Asian and Pacific Affairs, worries that Iranian agents may be preparing to illegally enter the United States: “It’s certainly a possibility. Would the agents that come into Venezuela be able to find their way to the United States? That’s certainly possible. You see the drug smugglers today using submersibles to move drugs to the U.S. and other parts of the Caribbean which is a real challenge. So why wouldn’t they be able to do the same with persons?”
The relationship between Iran and Venezuela (and Russia, and China, and Syria, and a number of other countries) reminds us that many of us were mistaken in hoping that, after the collapse of the Soviet Union and Eastern European communism, the prestige of liberal democracy would sweep away all alternatives, leading to a stable, peaceful world. There are enough proponents and apologists for illiberal, violent and expansionist ideologies–who tend to support each other, however unlike their philosophies may be–to prevent the realization of millenial asperations. Liberty must still be defended.