The United States on Wednesday imposed sanctions on five Iranian ship captains who had delivered oil to Venezuela, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reaffirmed Washington's backing for Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido.
Speaking at a press conference at the State Department, Pompeo said the ships delivered around 1.5 million barrels of Iranian gasoline and related components, and warned any mariners against doing business with the government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, whose ouster Washington wants.
"As a result of today's sanctions, these captains' assets will be blocked. Their careers and prospects will suffer from this designation," Pompeo said in a statement later. "Mariners who are considering work with Iran and Venezuela should understand that aiding these oppressive regimes is simply not worth the risk," he said.
The Trump administration, which is seeking both to block Iran's energy trade and bring down Maduro, has threatened reprisals and warned ports, shipping companies and insurers against facilitating the tankers.
The OPEC member's exports are hovering near their lowest levels in more than 70 years and the economy has collapsed, but Maduro has held on - to the frustration of the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump.
- Iranian fuel tankers start arriving in Venezuelan waters despite U.S. warning
- Despite U.S. sanctions, Iran aims to keep offloading gasoline glut to Venezuela
- Iran prepared to retaliate if U.S. stopped Venezuela-bound tankers, local media reports
In a statement on Twitter, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza called the sanctions "an excess of arrogance" and "more proof of the Trump hawks' hatred of all Venezuelans."
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi wrote in a tweet that Washington's action signaled the failure of its pressure campaign and said Iran and Venezuela "remain steadfast in countering unlawful American sanctions."
Iran has since April sent five tankers totalling about 1.5 million barrels to the leftist government of fuel-starved Venezuela, though the shipments have done little to alleviate hours-long lines at gas stations.
The United States and most other Western countries have recognized Guaido as the OPEC nation's interim president since January 2019, regarding Maduro's 2018 re-election as a sham.
But Maduro has retained the support of the military as well as the backing of Russia, Cuba, China and Iran.
The White House said on Monday that Trump had not lost confidence in Guaido.