February 27, 2010
Venezuela-Iran Foreign Relations
Flag of Venezuela (Available at Wikimedia Commons)
Reaction to June 2009 Iranian Presidential Election:
In June 2009, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez congratulated Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on his re-election, stating that "Ahmadinejad's triumph was a triumph all the way. They are trying to stain Ahmadinejad's triumph and through that weaken the government and the Islamic revolution. I know they will not succeed."
Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez has officially stated that Iran has a legitimate right to its nuclear program and that Venezuela supports Iran’s right to peaceful nuclear technology. Venezuela is a member of the Non-Aligned Movement, which released a statement in July 2008, saying that the member states “welcomed the continuing cooperation being extended by the Islamic Republic of Iran to the IAEA” and “reaffirmed that states’ choices and decisions, including those of the Islamic Republic of Iran, in the field of peaceful uses of nuclear technology and its fuel cycle policies must be respected.” In September 2008, Chavez announced that he was “interested in developing nuclear energy, for peaceful ends of course,” claiming that Russia had offered to help with this program, just as it had with Iran’s current program. The United States has already sanctioned one Iranian-owned bank in Caracas, Venezuela for providing financial services that supported Iran’s nuclear weapons program.
In late May 2009, Israeli news website Ynet obtained a detailed dossier drafted by the Israeli Foreign Ministry on Iran’s activities in South America. The report, which is based on information gathered by Israeli and foreign military and diplomatic sources around the world, claimed that Iran had begun building friendships in Latin America as early as 1982. The Foreign Ministry report claimed that particularly “since Ahmadinejad’s rise to power, Tehran has been promoting an aggressive policy aimed at bolstering its ties with Latin American countries with the declared goal of ‘bringing America to its knees.’” The Ynet article said that ‘Israel and the rest of the Western world’ is particularly concerned with the reports claiming that Venezuela has been supplying Iran with uranium designated for its nuclear program and that Tehran has been setting up Hezbollah terror cells in north Venezuela and in Margarita Island, which is under Venezuela control.
In October 2009, Chavez said that Iran is helping his country mine for uranium, while working with Russia to develop nuclear energy for civilian purposes. Chavez explicitly described the development of a uranium mining industry as a strategic need for Venezuela.
In late November 2009, the IAEA passed a rebuke against Iran for building a second enrichment plant in secret. Venezuela, along with Cuba and Malaysia, opposed the resolution. The resolution by the 35-member IAEA Board of Governors calls on Iran to halt uranium enrichment and immediately freeze the construction of its Fordo nuclear facility, located near Qom.
Iran and Venezuela have had minor bilateral dealings for many years, starting before 2000. During Mohammad Khatami’s presidency (1997–2005), Iran and Venezuela developed their relations into progressively more extensive energy cooperation and private-sector investment.  At the start of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s presidency in 2005, Iran and Venezuela signed a string of bilateral agreements, including two on oil exploration and car production. In 2007, the two developed a joint petrochemical plant and signed a series of economic cooperation agreements. In 2008, Venezuela and Iran began cooperating in Veniran, a joint production project that will assemble tractors and Iranian-designed cars for consumers in Latin America. 
In March 2009, President Chavez advocated the creation of a joint Iranian-Venezuelan bank. In April 2009, the two countries agreed to increase their economic cooperation, signing nine memoranda of understanding on mineral exploration, agricultural research, and joint technology development. The memoranda also included agreements to cooperate in the energy sector with oil and gas refineries and sharing energy technology. Iran supplies Venezuela with tractors and consumer goods, including bicycles and dairy products. In September 2009, Chavez agreed to supply Iran with 20,000 barrels of gasoline per day.
In October 2009, Venezuelan First Secretary for Energy Affairs in Venezuela’s Tehran embassy, Louis Mayta, stated that “Iran and Venezuela are establishing an oil company named Beniroug which allows us to make investments and activities [sic] in other countries, including Cuba, Sudan, China and Bolivia.” Spain helped mediate difficulties in Beniroug’s registration process and will host the company’s headquarters. Mayta said that the deal is on daily supplies of 20,000 barrels of gasoline to Iran with the quality at international levels. Based on the founding agreement, Iran will pay the equivalent sum of the barrels of gasoline in the form of investments in Venezuela’s projects by Iranian companies. Beniroug also plans to build a refinery in Syria with the capacity of 140,000 barrels of oil per day.[25
In late November, representatives of the Venezuelan and Iranian governments opened the Venezuela-Iran Entrepreneurs Meeting in Caracas in anticipation of Ahmadinejad’s arrival in Caracas the following day. Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro and Iranian Ambassador to Venezuela Ahmad Sobhani attended the opening ceremony, and Maduro announced that “our challenge is to give a plan of new and intense projects. Nothing can impede the capacities we have continued combining to give concrete results.”
In December 2009, International Monetary Fund (IMF) data analyzed by the Latin Business Chronicle confirmed that Iran-Latin American trade soared 209% in 2008, totaling US$2.9 billion. According to this data and in spite of excellent political and diplomatic ties, bilateral trade between Venezuela and Iran did not advance in the same way it did for other Latin American countries. For example, while Brazil’s and Argentina’s trade increased by 88% and 96% since 2007 respectively, Venezuela’s trade increased by 31% from the previous year. After these changes, Venezuela became Iran’s fifth largest trade partner in the region.
Iran and Venezuela have had minor bilateral dealings for many years, starting before 2000. Tehran and Caracas began to deliver a united foreign policy message, with the two countries’ leaders appearing together for public media broadcasts with increasing frequency since Ahmadinejad’s election in 2005.  The two states’ rhetoric has become increasingly anti-American, referring to a bilateral unity that would “reduce the influence of certain world powers.” In 2005, at the end of Iranian President Khatami’s term, President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela presented the Iranian leader with the Golden Key of the City of Caracas as a sign of gratitude for Khatami’s efforts to promote ties between the two countries.[33
Following the election of President Ahmadinejad in 2005, amity between Caracas and Tehran matured into a more personal entente focused on the U.S. At the Non-Aligned Movement Summit in Cuba in 2006, Chavez claimed that he would defend Iran from any threat of invasion. Not long after, Ahmadinejad publicly stated that he would back Venezuela’s bid for a seat on the United Nations (UN) Security Council. In 2007, the two leaders claimed that they were strengthening an “axis of unity” against the United States.
Like Tehran under Ahmadinejad, Caracas under Chavez has turned to Russia and China for aid in its military development plans, drawing Iran and Venezuela even closer under a common defense umbrella. In July 2008, Chavez visited Russia to finalize the purchase of military equipment, including Tor-M1 air-defense systems, diesel submarines, and Ilyushin warplanes. He followed with a similar visit to China to negotiate bilateral relations agreements and, reportedly, to offer to buy Chinese K-8 military training planes.
Beyond its growing connection to Iranian sponsors China and Russia, Venezuela has increased ties with Lebanese Hezbollah operating in South America. The Director of Political Aspects at Venezuela’s embassy in Lebanon used his position to raise funds for Hezbollah and facilitate travel for Hezbollah members to and from Venezuela, according to a report from the U.S. Department of the Treasury.
In December 2008, Agence France Presse reported that, US and other Western intelligence agencies claimed that Venezuela has helped Iran ship components for missiles to Syria. The report stated that “in return for providing aircraft, Iran has made available to Caracas members of its [Islamic] Revolution[ary] Guards [Corps] and the elite Al-Quds unit [Qods Force] to train and reinforce the Venezuelan police and secret services.”
In April 2009, Venezuelan Vice President Roman Carrizales and Iran Defense Minister Mostafa Mohammed Najjar met in Caracas to discuss greater defense cooperation. Najjar’s visit is the first state visit of an Iranian defense minister to Venezuela since the Islamic Revolution in 1979. The two countries discussed strengthening their long-term relations and briefed one another on their respective military developments and capabilities. Najjar toured Venezuelan defense centers and industries, and explained that bilateral cooperation between Iran and Venezuela would strengthen their deterrent capabilities. In May 2009, Ahmadinejad was scheduled to pay an official visit to Brazil, Ecuador, and Venezuela accompanied by over 100 delegates to discuss economic and political cooperation with the two countries, however days before he was set to depart for the region, the official Iranian IRNA newspaper reported that Ahmadinejad would not travel to the Middle East and would instead visit Syria.
In November 2009, the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry condemned comments of Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon describing Caracas as Tehran’s leading ally in South America. The Venezuelan Foreign Ministry argued that Ayalon’s comments were an act of “aggression against [Venezuela’s] people and a sign of the vile, meddling and aggressive attitude of Israel,” and insisted that Venezuela is not Iran’s forward base in Latin America.
Later that month, Chavez made the announcement on his weekly television and radio broadcast “Alo Presidente” that Ahmadinejad would soon visit Venezuela, adding that “Iran is attacked like us by the empire. We are accused of exporting terrorism, but they are the killers.”
In November 2009, Ahmadinejad entered the last leg of his regional tour in Venezuela. Upon welcoming the Iranian leader to the Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas, Chavez stated that “Ahmadinejad is a gladiator of the anti-imperialist struggle. He's an example of strength and perseverance for the freedom of his country.” Despite a small mistake at the beginning of the visit – Venezuela inadvertently played the deposed Shah’s anthem as Ahmadinejad stepped off the plane – the two presidents were friendly and praised each other as “comrade” and “brother”.
In December 2009, after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned Latin American countries against becoming too closely involved with Iran—saying that it could have diplomatic consequences for them— Chavez responded saying that these remarks were “an overt threat, especially at Venezuela and Bolivia.” The Bolivian Foreign Ministry also voiced criticism for Clinton’s remarks. Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Ramin Mehmanparast responded by saying that the comments infringed on accepted diplomatic norms.
In January 2010, following an agreement signed in March of the previous year, Venezuela announced that it has removed visa requirements for Iranian nationals wishing to visit, making it the third Latin American country to do so including Nicaragua and Ecuador.
In April 2010, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez vehemently confuted a report by the U.S. Pentagon to Congress, which reported that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ elite Qods forces are increasing their presence in Latin America and in partiular, within Venezuela. In a public announcement, Chavez argued, “If the U.S. applies sanctions to Iran, these forces that are here – something that is absolutely false – could then attack U.S. territory or U.S. interests with terrorist acts… Tell me this isn’t an open threat by the government of the United States against Venezuela once again using infamy and lies.”