The United States said on Thursday that a cash-strapped Venezuela is using gold to make payments to Iran in order to rebuild its troubled oil sector, noting the increasing cooperation between the two hostile countries.
Elliot Abrams, the envoy who is leading the US effort to remove Venezuelan leftist Nicolas Maduro from power, said Iran was sending “more aircraft” to the South American country, including this week.
Abrams said at the conservative research center “The Hudson Institute” in Washington, “Our estimates indicate that they are receiving payments of gold,” noting that “these planes coming from Iran that transport things to the oil industry are loaded with the price of these things: gold”.
The administration of President Donald Trump has imposed sanctions aimed at stopping oil exports to Iran and Venezuela, two of the world’s major oil producers.
Venezuela has the largest proven oil reserves in the world. But analysts say this sector is operating at a lot below capacity due to corruption and lack of investment.
The Venezuelan economy collapsed, while millions fled due to a lack of basic supplies.
Iran was dealt a harsh blow with the reimposition of US sanctions after Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal.
Abrams explained that Iran’s role revealed the limited support Maduro received from Russia and China, who stood by him despite Western pressure.
He said, “One of the reasons why I mention this is not only to show that Iran is playing an increasing role, but to draw attention to cash payments”.
He added, “We know that Maduro wanted to obtain during the past year additional Russian and Chinese loans and additional investments, and he did not get a single cent”.
On Wednesday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke about cooperation between the two rival countries of the United States.
Pompeo spoke of the monitoring of ‘numerous’ aircraft in Venezuela belonging to the Iranian airline Mahan, which is subject to US and other sanctions, on charges of transporting fighters and weapons for the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.
Pompeo said that “these flights must stop and countries must do their part to prevent aircraft from flying in their airspace, as many of these sanctions-bound companies have been deprived of landing”.
Relations between Iran and Venezuela are not secret.
The Venezuelan Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that Maduro and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani had agreed to enhance cooperation in a phone call on 13 April.
Maduro has been holding on for more than a year despite US-led efforts to isolate him and meet the army’s support.
About 60 countries recognize opposition leader Juan Guaido as interim president, after information on irregularities recorded in the poll that allowed Maduro to remain in power in 2018.