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Iran’s FM visits Venezuela, Nicaragua to shore up 'anti-Western' alliances

The US recently eased sanctions on Venezuela, and the South American country’s openness to repair ties with Washington is worrisome for the Iranian government.

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian visited Venezuela on Friday, following the South American country's recent moves to warm relations with the United States.

Amir-Abdollahian arrived in Venezuela on Thursday night and met with his Venezuelan counterpart, Carlos Faria, as well as Venezuelan Oil Minister Tareck El Aissami on Friday. Amir-Abdollahian discussed unspecified bilateral and international issues with the officials, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.

Amir-Abdollahian came to Venezuela from Nicaragua. There, he met with his Nicaraguan counterpart, Denis Moncada on Wednesday night. The two discussed boosting bilateral relations, particularly in the economy, science and technology, according to the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 

On Thursday, Amir-Abdollahian also met Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega. He slammed US sanctions on Iran during the meeting, according to the Islamic Republic News Agency. 

The top Iranian diplomat also visited an oil refinery in Nicaragua during his visit, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said. 

Background: Iran has close relations with both Venezuela and Nicaragua. All three countries are sanctioned by the US, which has brought them closer together over the years. 

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro visited Iran last June. 

Venezuela has some of the largest oil reserves in the world, but its refinery system has fallen into disarray. As a result, Iran has both sent oil to Venezuela and loaded Venezuelan unrefined crude oil for sale abroad in recent years. 

Why it matters: Amir-Abdollahian’s trip to Venezuela follows indications that the South American country could be moving closer to the US. In November, the US eased sanctions on Venezuela after Maduro resumed talks with the opposition and released seven US prisoners from detention. The Treasury Department specifically allowed oil giant Chevron to export oil from Venezuela. Washington also reversed its recognition of opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela's president.

Moreover, in January, Maduro said he is willing to normalize relations with the US. This angered some in the Islamic Republic, according to Mohammad Salami, an expert at the Islamabad-based International Institute for Global Strategic Analysis. 

“In this trip, Tehran seeks to coordinate its anti-Western policies with Venezuela to ensure the support of Caracas," Salami told Al-Monitor. 

Salami also pointed out that Maduro proposed in January creating a new regional bloc in South America aligned with Russia and China. Maduro did not mention Iran in the alliance, however. “Some people in Iran evaluated these words as Maduro’s indifference to Iran,” said Salami. 

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi warned the Venezuelan ambassador in Tehran last month against normalizing with the US, the pro-opposition Iran International news outlet reported. 

Iran is also facing high international isolation at present. There is significant outrage in the West over Iran sending drones to Russia during the Ukraine war and the crackdown on protests and riots within Iran. This is one reason for Amir-Abdollahian’s visit to Venezuela and Nicaragua, according to Salami. 

“These conditions have put Iran in a position to reduce the severity of its isolation by traveling to friendly countries such as Venezuela and Nicaragua and reduce the effects of economic sanctions,” he said. 

"By being present in this region, Iran intends to convey the message that in the event of a confrontation, it has the ability to endanger the interests of the US in the areas closest to Washington." 

Amir-Abdollahian’s trip could also indicate that Iran and Venezuela are further deepening cooperation beyond energy. Just last month, Venezuela received an export of Iranian automobiles

At the same time, oil remains important to the relationship. Venezuela’s oil sector still needs help, despite easing US sanctions. Reuters reported in January that oil exports fell last year, even though Iran sent supplies and technicians.

Know more: Amir-Abdollahian also traveled to Mauritania during his international trip. He discussed boosting political, cultural, technological, economic and trade ties with the officials in the west African country, according to the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 

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