Robert HARNEIS -TDO- (FRANCE)-  The Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has warned the United States against any interference with the shipment of Iranian petroleum products to Venezuela, accusing the Trump administration of committing "a kind of marine piracy."  

Iran's Foreign Ministry has warned again that the United States will itself bear the responsibility for any foolish act that it could take against Venezuela-headed Iranian fuel tankers, saying Washington cannot get in the way of legitimate trade among independent countries.

“The US itself will have to suffer the repercussions that arise out of any unthinking measure against the Iranian vessels,” ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi told reporters during a press briefing in Tehran.

“Should the Americans take any measure against our vessels’ free and legal movement, they would face our decisive response,” he warned.

If Washington “does not like a country, this does not give it any grounds to prevent legal trade among countries, impose sanctions, and cause trouble for them,” the official noted.

The Islamic Republic, he said, has delivered a clear caution against any potential American mischief through the Swiss Embassy in Tehran that represents Washington’s interests, the Iranian mission to the United Nations, and also a letter by Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

Meanwhile speaking to Press TV, an Iranian military official echoed a similar warning, noting that Iran reserved the right to respond duly to and retaliate any action to target its oil tankers sailing through international waters towards Venezuela.

"International waters should remain safe either for all oil tankers or none," the military official spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Both Venezuela and Iran face heavy U.S. sanctions, and while both are oil-rich, Venezuela's refining infrastructure is in a grave state of disrepair after years of mismanagement and underinvestment. The Trump administration believes that the Venezuelan government is paying the Iranian government in gold bullion for a shipment of much-needed fuel. Five Iranian-flagged product tankers recently took on cargo at Bandar Abbas and headed westwards through the Suez Canal bound for undeclared destinations. 

According to website Maritime Executive, five tankers with a total dead weight of 175,000 tonnes, Fortune, Faxon, Forest, Clavel and Petunia, are carrying oil valued at $45 million to Venezuela. The first three are through the Straights of Gibraltar in the Atlantic Ocean, the Clavel is still in the Western Mediterranean. There is currently no trace of Petunia.

On 14 May, a Trump administration official confirmed to Reuters that the White House is weighing undisclosed response options for the Iranian petroleum shipment, which the official described as "unwelcome by the region."

Iran has also used cargo planes to supply Venezuela with materials for restarting the catalytic cracking unit at Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA's Cardon refinery, according to U.S. officials, in defiance of American sanctions on both countries. 

Iran's semiofficial Nour news agency warned on 17 May, that "if the United States, just like pirates, intends to create insecurity on international waterways, it would be taking a dangerous risk, and that will certainly not go without repercussion."

Last July, the UK, presumably under US pressure, seized an Iran-operated supertanker with US instructions, attacking the vessel in the Strait of Gibraltar. Iran then seized a British flagged tanker in the Straits of Hormuz. Both vessels were subsequently released a month later.

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