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Defense Secretary “concerned” over arms transfer from Iranian ships to Venezuela

Austin said he shared Blumenthal’s concerns, adding that “I am absolutely concerned about the proliferation of weapons, of all types, in our neighborhood.”

Austin declined to answer Blumenthal’s questions about the weapons on board, saying he would provide information behind closed doors. He added that he had not spoken to any other leaders of countries in the region about the movement of ships.

POLITICO first reported last week that U.S. officials were monitoring two Iranian navy ships, the forward ship Makran and the frigate Sahand, which sailed the east coast of Africa around the Cape of Good Hope and are now heading northwest across the Atlantic. The intelligence community has evidence that the Makran is carrying fast attack boats, presumably destined for sale in Venezuela, POLITICO reported on Wednesday.

The Biden administration has urged Venezuela and Cuba through diplomatic channels to turn back the ships, while promising the United States will take “appropriate steps” to deter what it sees as a “threat.”

“The delivery of such weapons would be an act of provocation and would be seen as a threat to our partners in the Western Hemisphere,” a senior administration official said in a statement to POLITICO. “We reserve the right to take appropriate measures in coordination with our partners to deter the transit or delivery of such weapons. “

Austin isn’t the only defense official in the Western Hemisphere to sound the alarm bells about ships. Guyanese national security adviser Captain Gerry Gouveia told POLITICO ships are a major concern. Guyana borders Venezuela to the east, and Venezuela claims much of its land and sea territory. Meanwhile, ExxonMobil operates a joint venture to drill for oil in the Stabroek block, which is in Guyanese waters. On Wednesday, he announced that a new discovery had been made there, as reported by Reuters. The arrival of Iranian rapid attack boats in the region could threaten the stability that such projects require, according to Gouveia.

“[I]If it is indeed consignments of sophisticated equipment, including fast boats, it must be of concern to all of us in this hemisphere, especially Venezuela’s neighbors, including Guyana, on which Venezuela claims five-eight. our territory and our maritime space ”, he declared. wrote in a message to POLITICO.

“The reported acquisition of these weapons, as revealed by US intelligence sources, would certainly pose a threat to the peace and security of the hemisphere. The media say the expeditions include fast attack boats, ”Gouveia added. “Given the Iranian swarm tactics with these ships that threaten navigation in the Gulf, there is concern for our offshore oil and gas operations and for the protection of our sovereignty. [exclusive economic zone]. “

A defense official said the Pentagon is not currently developing plans to more closely monitor ships using air or naval assets in the region, or to carry out an interception in international waters.

But the US military has already planned for such an eventuality, according to a former senior defense official. Last summer, amid reports that Venezuela was considering purchasing long-range missiles from Iran, DoD officials felt that an arms transfer would be a “red line,” said the person.

“We had worked out options for such an eventuality – from very visible to underground,” the person said. “In the end, we never had to consider them.”

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