Iran Warns US Not to Interfere with Venezuelan Oil Flotilla

Iran to respond to any US aggression against its oil tankers Rouhani

Despite boasting the world's largest proven oil reserves, the country has been struggling to cover its domestic supply needs, with its energy industry ravaged by crippling U.S. sanctions.

A flotilla of five tankers carrying Iranian fuel for gasoline-starved Venezuela is approaching the Caribbean, with the first vessel, Iranian-flagged tanker Fortune, expected to reach Venezeula's waters on Sunday.

The remarks come after The Wall Street Journal cited unnamed USA officials as saying on Wednesday that the Trump administration is considering new sanctions and "other legal steps to disrupt Iranian oil exports to Venezuela", in response to what Washington sees as Tehran's attempts "to make inroads into Latin America". Leave Venezuela and Iran and the rest of the world alone!

"Fortune" is followed by the other four Iranian tankers - the Clavel, the Forest, the Faxon and the Petunia - all en route to Venezuela's shores.

These five ships are listed on the US Department of the Treasury's Specially Designated Nationals lists (SDN List) as blocked property due to their connections to the National Iranian Tanker Company (NITC) and the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Line (IRISL).

"If our oil tankers in the Caribbean Sea or anywhere else in the world get into trouble caused by the Americans, they (US) will run into trouble reciprocally", the Iranian president said in a telephone conversation with Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani on Saturday.

· any other goods or services relating to the maintenance, supply, bunkering, and docking of such vessels.

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"We will not abide by their support of the illegitimate and tyrannical regime of Nicolas Maduro", the Trump administration said in a statement, citing its "maximum pressure" campaign against the socialist leader. "It will not stop Venezuela's chronic fuel shortages or alleviate the suffering that Maduro has inflicted on the once prosperous people of his country".

Analysts say the U.S. administration is more likely to use additional economic sanctions than force to deter Iranian-Venezuelan trade, the Washington Post reported.

The warning came as the White House, according to a report by Reuters, is mulling additional penalties to prevent Iran from delivering fuel to the country.

On Saturday, Rouhani reportedly said: "Iran will never initiate a conflict..."

Venezuela's defence minister has said its navy and air force will escort the Iranian tankers once they reach the nation's EEZ. Venezuelan officials paint them as a threat, but USA officials have not announced any plans to intercept the Iranian tankers.

"Armed vessels approaching within 100 meters of a USA naval vessel may be interpreted as a threat", according to the text of the notice.

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