Two of the world’s biggest oil exporters are re-establishing bonhomie. Iran and Venezuela are again the topics of discussion in global geopolitics. Iran has recently supplied arms and military soldiers to Venezuela early this year; it had also supplied gasoline to Venezuela. Venezuela is experiencing a shortage of oil due to mining expenditures and economic instability. This step has broached the discussions on the possibility of a long term alliance.
The United States alleged that Iran has also supplied missiles and weapons. In doing so Iran defied the U.S. sanctions. This also attacks the U.S aspirations of ousting the Maduro regime of Venezuela. The implications for global geopolitics are manifold. In this article, we touch on many such implications from a broader perspective.
Iran and Venezuela: Understanding the Historical Relationship
Both Iran and Venezuela have always had a reliable mutual friendship. Venezuela was the first country to recognize Iran after the Iranian Revolution. Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) is another factor. Both countries are the founding members of OPEC. In the backdrop of 9/11, their relations improved substantially in the 2000s. The number of diplomatic visits and bilateral trade increased.
After the US tightened sanctions on Iran’s trade, Venezuela offered its market to Iran. Within years, Iran invested more than $10 billion in Venezuela. This investment, however, couldn’t bring good to any nation. The U.S didn’t like the Iranian presence in Latin America. The U.S. and EU imposed heavy sanctions on Iran exports and the trade got affected due to the occasional seizure of sea goods.
Chavez, the then president of Venezuela wanted strong relations with Iran. But none of his successors continued the practice. In a matter of time, the talks got limited to few top military leaders and diplomats. The groundwork majorly stopped after increased sanctions and U.S repudiations. Maduro, after assuming power, has tried, with little success, to revamp the old friendship.
The United States as a Common Enemy
The U.S. has recently warned Iran to stop its unscrupulous activities in Latin America. It also cautioned I ran about the “consequences” of such military deployment. In August this year, Maduro had publicly admitted the missile deal with Iran. Thereon, the United States under Trump had looked parochially at the transactions. The U.S understands the gravity of such military ties. The armed shipments came at a critical time from the U.S. perspective. Biden administration was believed to lessen the sanctions on Iran. This approach may change now. A strong Venezuela under Maduro is harmful to the U.S. interests in Latin America.
The U.S. has always supported the anti-communist Juan Guaido for the Venezuelan presidency. Nicolas Maduro, in the past few months, is tightening his grip by establishing international ties. The Venezuelan president is in contact with “anti-U.S.” elements. A think tank also estimated that weapon purchase is difficult for a struggling economy like Venezuela. Even so, none of the two countries has ever mentioned the details of such transactions in public.
The Chinese Interests in Iran-Venezuela Relations
China is the only big economy that continued oil purchase from Iran despite U.S. sanctions. China has recently had recently announced a $ 400 million investment in Iran. Iran is also a part of the ambitious Chinese Belt and Road initiative. After the trade war with the U.S., China started looking for better alternatives to target U.S. shale industry. OPEC emerged as a great factor. Venezuela has also supported China in its approach towards Iran and North Korea. Maduro is often heard of an “alliance” against the U.S. China however looks at the picture from a different lens. Venezuela is crucial for China to counter the U.S. “infiltration” in the South China Sea and Taiwan. China seems to adopt the cold war strategy of the Soviet Union. In this manner, China looks at Latin America like Soviet look at Cuba back then.
Venezuela heavily relied on China monetarily during the fatal economic crisis. China has granted more than $20 billion to Venezuela in loans. This in itself suffices the tacit Chinese support to the Maduro regime.
The sale of the missile came at a time when President Trump is certain to make one last attempt in thwarting the Iranian interests in an American neighbourhood. Biden too would rethink his liberal stand on Iran. Comparatively, Maduro is in a better position. He has already gripped the presidency by holding elections during a pandemic. His close relations with China have benefited the nation economically. The relations with Iran now are adding to the success story. An alliance of Iran, Venezuela and China could be challenging for an already disturbing world.
The diplomacy in the U.S., EU and the Quad is concerned about a strong Iran. South Asia too has its own reasons to circumspect. India, along with ASEAN, does not want another unholy alliance in economically beneficial Indo-Pacific. Thus, Iran has played a long term tactic in international geopolitics. A general caveat is that small alliances always disturb big nations. This shall also show its impact during another wave of tensed relations between West and East – the U.S. and China.
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