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Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Tehran - Caracas axis

Roger Noriega, U.S. ambassador to the Organization of American States from 2001 to 2003 and assistant secretary of state from 2003 to 2005, raises serious concerns about dealings between Iran and Venezuela. Although Noriega raises these issues as possible problems in enforcing sanctions against Iran, they also merit independent consideration.
Although Mr. Chávez has denounced reports of uranium mining as “lies” and part of an “imperialist plan,” the Canadian uranium exploration company U308 Corp has recorded a substantial source of uranium in the Roraima Basin, which straddles the border between Guyana and the Venezuelan province of Bolívar.

Iranian or other Middle Eastern individuals operate a tractor factory, cement plant and gold mine in this region. Two of these facilities have private ports on the Orinoco River, affording unimpeded access to the Atlantic. One of these operations—the VenIran tractor factory—was the intended recipient of 22 containers intercepted by Turkish customs authorities at the port of Mersin in December 2008. They were carrying an “explosives lab” and nitrate and sulfite chemicals that are used to manufacture explosives.

These industrial operations are only the tip of the iceberg. Joint ventures and other projects totaling at least $30 billion between Iranian and Venezuelan front companies can be used to conceal multimillion dollar transactions. In addition, Iran has created several major financial institutions in Venezuela that work through local banks to gain access to the global banking system.

Because Venezuela can barely meet its domestic demand for refined petroleum products, some have doubted that Mr. Chávez can make good on his September 2009 pledge to supply Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s regime with 20,000 barrels of gasoline a day to soften the blow of expected sanctions. If the U.S. intelligence community is paying attention, however, it will know what Mr. Chávez told his Iranian counterpart in Caracas last November: Venezuela is already purchasing fuel on the international market for planned shipment to Iran, according to a secret account of the meeting provided to me by Venezuelan sources.

The Iranian relationship has also helped boost Venezuelan support of Middle Eastern radicals. Last November, Israeli navy commandos seized the German cargo vessel Francop, which was carrying 36 shipping containers holding 500 tons of Katyusha rockets, mortars, grenades and a half-million rounds of small-arms ammunition en route to Syria, but ultimately bound for Hezbollah in Lebanon. The lethal shipment had left the Venezuelan port of Guanta around the time that Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro was visiting Damascus to deliver a message from Mr. Chávez to Bashar al-Assad.
The uranium mining story is not new, but much of the rest of it is (I was traveling the day the Francop story broke, but I recall it being headlined as an 'Iranian ship' and that there was no mention of it having originated from Venezuela).

Noriega notes that thus far the Obama administration has ignored everything done by Venezuela as 'petty provocations' and suggests that maybe the relationship between Caracas and Tehran will get the Obama administration to act. I see no signs of that. Given how much Obama ignores about Iran, and given that he's even had a warm meeting with Chavez, why should anything change? What could go wrong?


At 5:43 AM, Blogger NormanF said...

More of the same... so how much do those friendly dictators adore you? Bring on the "engagement!"


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