We predicted earlier that the United States is headed for another 'tanker war' with Iran, but unlike last summer this will take place far away from Persian Gulf and Mediterranean waters, instead in the Caribbean off Venezuela's coast, however unusual that scenario might be. Recall that Trump recently ordered a US naval build-up there to boot.
Currently there are five Iranian-flagged tankers transporting fuel to Venezuela across the Atlantic Ocean, with plans to break the American blockade on the Latin American country. Iran has warned that any US attempt at intercepting its fuel tankers "would have serious repercussions for the Trump administration ahead of the November elections."
But Washington appears ready to do just that, also as the growing number of Iranian supply flights to Caracas via Iran's US-sanctioned Mahan Air is gaining attention. To get Venezuela's derelict refineries up and running to meet domestic gas consumption, vital parts are needed — a role that Tehran has stepped up to fill. But in a new twist to the imminent geopolitical showdown, the US has freshly accused China of being part of the Iranian sanctions-busting scheme in Latin America.
On Tuesday Secretary of State Mike Pompeo named China as helping to facilitate the scheme to 'smuggle' gold out of Caracas as payment for the inbound Iranian gasoline as well as refining supplies and support.
The State Department specifically identified Chinese firm Shanghai Saint Logistics Limited, saying it's now blacklisted the company for sanctions violations related to Iran and Venezuela.
“The People’s Republic of China is one of the rapidly dwindling number of countries that welcomes Mahan Air, which ferries weapons and terrorists around the world for the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Pompeo announced.
Washington has long considered Mahan as essentially a front for elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) operations, but it's the first time Beijing has been linked so forcefully to helping "ferry weapons and terrorists around the world" while assisting Mahan Air.
Pompeo alleged that Shanghai Saint Logistics “provides general sales agent services” for Mahan Air, according to the statement.
In April a series of sanctioned Mahan flights landed in Venezuela to transport badly needed equipment to fix fuel refining plants for domestic gas consumption amid a severe national shortage. Pompeo at the time called on all countries to block airspace for such 'banned' flights.
In the past months the US administration also reportedly ordered a naval build-up in the Caribbean in order to thwart 'illegal' sanctions-busting activities involving Venezuela.
We’d like to inform our audience that all 5 Iranian gasoline-laden tankers are pinging, but due to them being far away from land-based VHF AIS receivers, they can only be received by satellite AIS. https://t.co/DEO6nwBst3 @MarineTraffic offers Sat-AIS as a service add-on. Thanks. https://t.co/gTentOUwlP— TankerTrackers.com, Inc.⚓️🛢 (@TankerTrackers) May 19, 2020
Like Russia, China has long been a quiet supporter of Maduro, rumored to even supply troops for training missions, as well as economic support, however, a number of reports suggest that's been scaled back of late.
Reports the WSJ: "The sanctions announced Tuesday block any assets Shanghai Saint Logistics has within U.S. jurisdictions, prohibit U.S.-based companies and individuals from transacting with them, and expose anyone doing business with them to potential penalties."