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Austin says he's 'concerned' about Iranian ships in Atlantic

Austin says he's 'concerned' about Iranian ships in Atlantic
© Greg Nash

Defense Secretary Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinOvernight Defense: Joint Chiefs chairman clashes with GOP on critical race theory | House bill introduced to overhaul military justice system as sexual assault reform builds momentum Joint Chiefs chairman clashes with GOP on race theory, 'white rage' Top US general downplays Taliban battlefield gains MORE said Thursday that he’s “concerned” about the two Iranian ships that are crossing the Atlantic Ocean.

While it is unclear where the two vessels are headed, Austin expressed worry that they could be transporting weapons, potentially to Venezuela, which has had an acrimonious relationship with the U.S. for years.

“The precedent of allowing Iran to provide weapons to the region causes me great concern,” Austin said at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.

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“I am absolutely concerned about the proliferation of weapons, any type of weapons, in our neighborhood,” he added.

Austin suggested he could provide more details about the vessels, including what weapons they could be transporting, in a closed session with senators.

The testimony comes the same day that Iran publicly announced that the destroyer Sahand and the intelligence-gathering vessel Makran had arrived in the Atlantic. The voyage marks one of the ambitious trips yet by the Iranian military, which has tried and failed in the past to send ships across the ocean. 

The two ships are reportedly heading for Venezuela, though Iran on Thursday did not confirm their destination. 

A voyage to Venezuela, particularly if the ships are carrying weapons, would be a highly provocative move by Iran. A delivery of weapons to a Western Hemisphere adversary of the U.S. would come as Tehran is negotiating the terms of reentering the Obama-era nuclear deal and heading into presidential elections. 

Politico has reported that the U.S. is using diplomatic channels to urge Venezuela and Cuba to turn away the two warships and caution them that it would work to prevent any threat to Washington's Western Hemisphere allies.