Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, over the weekend, has reached an agreement with the Iranian government to export 20,000 barrels per day of gasoline to Iran. This was what Iranian state TV reported Monday. Many saw the deal as part of a precautionary measure from Iran, should the western powers decide to make good on their promise to imposing sanctions over Iran’s nuclear program.
In a Eurasian tour that took Chavez to Moscow, Beijing and Teheran, the Venezuelan president, while signing the agreement late Sunday, according to several news agencies, has pledged to deepen ties with Iran and to stand together against what he called “the imperialist powers of the world.” Chavez represents the most visible endorsement yet to Iran since the controversial election that reelected Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the presidency last summer.
Dependency on fuel imports constitutes one of the biggest dilemmas Iran faces. The country badly lacks the refinery capacity to meet its own energy consumption despite its vast oil reserves. So to compensate for this deficit, Iran must buy vast quantities of commercial-ready fuel on the open market. So the Western powers know it, and they have threatened to impose a fuel blockade on Iran should the Iranian leaders refuse to yield to Western demands that it stop its nuclear activities.
So, the deal with Venezuela is nothing but a contingency measure designed to stave off any possible sanction imposed by the US and the other Western powers. “On the basis of a strategic decision, it was agreed to export 20,000 barrels a day of gasoline from Venezuela to Iran,” said Chavez on Iranian state Television as he was leaving Teheran. The fuel shipments are set to begin in October.
Although lack of major foreign investments has forced the country’s economy to linger for years, Iran has skillfully weathered the limited sanctions imposed since it declared its nuclear ambitions. It has done it without any major hardships. Many of Iran’s neighbors backed by the United States and its allies have been demanding that Iran halt its nuclear activities, and have accused the country of creating further excuses for Tel Aviv to continue its military aggression over its Arab neighbors. They claimed Iran is using its civilian nuclear program as a cover to develop nuclear weapons. Iran has consistently denied it, saying its nuclear program is being designed to generate only electricity.
Iranian leaders — especially President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — have rebuffed the West and have also accused the United States of practicing a double standard by turning a blind eye on Israeli nuclear program while keeping a policy to curbing any form of Muslim advance in nuclear development, even if it is for civilian purposes. Teheran has made it clear to whoever wants to hear it that it will never give up uranium enrichment, something that the United Nations Security Council has been demanding.
In the quest to forge a “united front” against what they call “imperialist aggression”, Chavez and Ahmadinejad intend to strengthen their commercial ties. According to the country state TV, Venezuela will import machinery and technology from Iran in return for its gasoline exports. The broadcast also quoted Ahmadinejad as saying that the two countries agreed to set up a bank together to help finance joint projects.
A major deadline hangs over Iran’s head. The Western powers have given Iran until the end of September to agree to talks on its nuclear program or face stronger sanctions. Feeling the pressure, Iran, despite the fact it has rejected any deadlines, has conceded last week through its top nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili that the country is ready to present a package of new proposals to the UN Security Council that will include its readiness to open to dialogue “in order to ease common concerns in the international arena.”
Meanwhile, with his new deal with Iran, Chavez has just opened a new front in his fight against, as he puts it, “the last crusaders.”
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