(MENAFN - Caribbean News Now) By Caribbean News Now contributor
CARACAS, Venezuela – Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif traveled to Venezuelan Friday to meet with several officials following a UN session in New York City earlier in the week, on the same day, Iran seized a British oil tanker while another was temporarily stopped and sent on its way, [according to a US official and the tankers' operators] traveling through the Strait of Hormuz, in the Persian Gulf.
The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) released video Saturday that shows masked commandos rappelling onto a seized British oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz, according to Iranian state television.
This move by Tehran has upset the United Kingdom and prompted them to summon the Iranian ambassador. "We are urgently seeking further information and assessing the situation following reports of an incident in the Gulf," Zarif said.
British oil tanker Stena ImperoStena [Bulk / AP]The Foreign and Commonwealth Office issued a statement that called Iran's actions "a clear challenge to international freedom of navigation."
"We have advised UK shipping to stay out of the area for an interim period," the statement said. "As the foreign secretary has said, our response will be considered and robust and there will be serious consequences if the situation is not resolved."
Relations between Iran and the West have been increasingly strained after Britain seized an Iranian tanker in Gibraltar on suspicion of smuggling oil to Syria in breach of European Union sanctions.
"We are urgently seeking further information and assessing the situation following reports of an incident in the Gulf," a spokesman for Britain's ministry of defence said on Friday.
Meantime the UK has sent a third warship to the Persian Gulf. Britain's Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt said Saturdaythat the seizure "shows worrying signs Iran may be choosing a dangerous path of illegal and destabilising behaviour."
Speaking to the Non-Aligned Movement in Caracas on Friday, Zarif noted that, Iran and Venezuela are facing an aggressive US administration that seeks to isolate the Islamic Republic from the world using economic sanctions and threatening their allies from doing business with them.
The Iranian foreign minister described US interference in Venezuelan affairs and the effects of their inhuman blockade of the Bolivarian Republic, stating, 'Without the interference of the United States, the people of Venezuela know how to live together and how to get along with each other."
"Wherever the United States steps, it brings instability and insecurity," adding "The Middle East and the regions of South America and Latin America, the United States is creating "instability and insecurity," Zarif said.
On Thursday, Treasury sanctioned Global Iranian Nuclear Enrichment Network of front companies and agents involved in the procurement of sensitive materials for sanctioned elements of Iran's nuclear program. The individuals and entities targeted today are based in Iran, China, and Belgium and have acted as a procurement network for Iran's Centrifuge Technology Company (TESA), which plays a crucial role in Iran's uranium enrichment nuclear program through the production of centrifuges used in facilities belonging to the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI).
- Iranian firm Bakhtar Raad Sepahan, in coordination with its Belgium-based office, facilitated deals for the purchase of hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of Chinese-origin aluminum products and their shipment from China to Iran on behalf of TESA.
- Iran-based Sabz Co. held a contract with TESA for alloy parts that was worth tens of thousands of dollars. It entered agreements with Chinese companies to purchase metal materials for end-use by TESA. Sabz Co. contracted with a Chinese company to purchase metal materials that match a part used in Iranian gas centrifuges machines.
- China-based Suzhou Zhongsheng Magnetic Company Limited and Suzhou A-One Special Alloy CO., Ltd contracted to sell metallic products to Sabz Co. for shipment from China to Iran.
- Mohammad Fakhrzadeh, a commercial director for TESA, has coordinated the purchase of various Chinese-origin aluminum goods that are associated with Iranian centrifuge components.
In related developments Friday, Treasury sanctioned four officials of the General Directorate of Military Counterintelligence (DGCIM) pursuant to E.O. 13692, as amended, for being current or former officials of the government of Venezuela:
- Division General Rafael Ramón Blanco Marrero (Blanco) is the Deputy Director of the DGCIM. Blanco was promoted to the rank of Division General on July 5, 2019, only six days after the death of Captain Acosta.
- Colonel Hannover Esteban Guerrero Mijares (Guerrero) is the DGCIM's Director of Investigations, where he oversees the DGCIM's headquarters in Boleíta. Guerrero works under the supervision of DGCIM Director Ivan Rafael Hernandez Dala, whom OFAC designated pursuant to E.O. 13692, as amended, on February 15, 2019.
- Major Alexander Enrique Granko Arteaga (Granko) is the head of the DGCIM's Special Affairs Unit.
- Colonel Rafael Antonio Franco Quintero (Franco) is the DGCIM's former Director of Investigations, who previously commanded the DGCIM headquarters in Boleíta.
As a result of these actions, 'All property and interests in property of these individuals, and of any entities that are owned, directly or indirectly, 50 percent or more by these individuals, that are in the United States or in the possession or control of US persons are blocked and must be reported to Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). OFAC. OFAC's regulations generally prohibit all dealings by US persons or within (or transiting) the United States that involve any property or interests in property of blocked or designated persons,' US Department of Treasury stated.
However, according to the Tasnim News Agency, Zarif said, the United States is "creating instability and insecurity" in the Middle East and Latin America. "The resistance of Venezuela to the United States is very important for the people of the world and the people of Venezuela.'