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Iran fuel shipment arrives in Venezuela amid US condemnation

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani had warned of retaliation if Washington caused problems for the shipment
Drivers push their cars as they queue for fuel in Caracas during ongoing petrol shortage (AFP)

The lead vessel of a five-tanker flotilla carrying fuel supplied by Iran to gasoline-thirsty Venezuela arrived at the state-run PDVSA El Palito port on Monday.

Iran is providing Venezuela with 1.53 million barrels of gasoline and components in a move criticized by US authorities as both nations are under Washington's sanctions, according to the governments, sources and calculations by TankerTrackers.com.

"The Iranian oil/chem Handymax tanker, FORTUNE, which loaded 43 million liters of gasoline during mid-March at Port Shahid Rajaee, Iran, has now moored at berth 2 at the refinery of El Palito, Venezuela, situated west of capital city, Caracas," tweeted TankerTrackers.com.

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A second vessel, the Forest, entered the Caribbean Sea on Saturday. The three remaining vessels, Petunia, Faxon and Clavel, were still crossing the Atlantic.

PDVSA did not reply to a request for comment on the exact content of the cargoes or plans for more imports from Iran, Reuters said.

"Venezuela and Iran both want peace, and we have the right to trade freely," Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro said in a state television address on Sunday. 

Maduro referred to the two countries as "revolutionary peoples who will never kneel down before the North American empire".

'Pariah state'

The Trump administration said earlier this month it was considering "measures" to take in response to the shipments, without providing specifics.

Venezuela's refining network has been operating this year at about 10 percent of its 1.3 million-barrel-per-day capacity, forcing it to rely on imports. 

US sanctions limit the sources and types of fuel it can receive.

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Maduro said the tankers were bringing gasoline and inputs to its refineries to produce gasoline.

Washington has steadily hardened sanctions on PDVSA as part of its effort to oust Maduro, who has overseen a six-year economic collapse and is accused by opponents of rigging his 2018 re-election vote.

"This is a sad reminder of Maduro's hopeless mismanagement," US State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said on Sunday. 

"Venezuelans need free and fair presidential elections leading to democracy and economic recovery, not Maduro's expensive deals with another pariah state."

The official declined to comment on what US response was under consideration, if any. 

Last week, a Pentagon spokesman said he was unaware of any military move planned against the vessels.

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani on Saturday warned of retaliation if Washington caused problems for the tankers.