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Iranian warships possibly headed to Venezuela reportedly spark US concern

Two Iranian naval vessels possibly destined for Venezuela are reportedly prompting surveillance from U.S. national security officials.

Sources close to the matter told Politico that an Iranian frigate and a former oil tanker called the Makran were traveling south along the eastern coast of Africa.

The ultimate destination of the ships is unknown, as is the purpose of their voyage, but U.S. officials told the news outlet that they may be going to Venezuela.

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Politico noted that Iran and Venezuela have formed closer ties over the years, cooperating on gasoline shipments and projects focusing on cars and cement factories. Both countries are also currently under harsh sanctions by the U.S.

A source familiar with Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s administration told Politico that senior officials have advised against welcoming the Iranian vessels. Iran is one of the few allies Venezuela has, having been isolated by most other countries.

Iran has sent multiple fuel tankers to Venezuela as its oil refining sector has diminished, with Venezuela sending cash back to Tehran.

If Iranian vessels do indeed travel into the Western Hemisphere, the action could endanger the ongoing Iran nuclear negotiations in Vienna, which the U.S. is engaging in indirectly. Iran has regularly protested against the presence of U.S. warships in the Persian Gulf, Politico noted, and has often threatened to make a similar move but has so far not followed through with those threats.

Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) released a statement on Sunday in response to Politico's report, stating Iranian warships are not welcome in the Western Hemisphere. He called on President BidenJoe BidenPutin says he's optimistic about working with Biden ahead of planned meeting How the infrastructure bill can help close the digital divide Biden meets Queen Elizabeth for first time as president MORE to speak out against the presence of Iranian warships.

"For years, I have been warning that Nicolas Maduro’s brutal regime has worked to turn Venezuela into prime real estate for Communist China, Iran and our adversaries to gain a critical foothold in the Western Hemisphere," Scott said.

"Now, the U.S. national security community believes that the Iranians, undoubtedly emboldened by the Biden Administration’s weakness and desperate desire to reenter the failed Iran nuclear deal, are making a direct and serious threat to America’s national security," he added.