Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Philadelphia Bulletin: Venezuela Becomes Key Link for Iran Policy

by David Bedein

Iran has been using Venezuela to help import and finance weapons denied by the international community.

In an address to the Brookings Institution on Sept. 8, Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, who has investigated Iran’s financial network and fronts, said Teheran was employing Venezuela’s banking network to evade United Nations Security Council sanctions. He said Venezuela, which was not under international sanctions, was helping Iran procure material and components for Teheran’s nuclear weapons program. Venezuela was reported to have at least 50,000 tons of uranium ore reserves”

“Generally speaking, nobody is focused sufficiently on the threat of the Iran-Venezuela connection,” Mr. Morgenthau said, adding that “in the area of mineral exploration there is speculation that Venezuela could be mining uranium for Iran.”

In return, Caracas has sought Iran’s help to make Venezuela a nuclear power in South America. In 2008, Iran opened a subsidiary of the state-owned Export Development Bank of Iran in Caracas, which months later came under U.S. sanctions. The Iranian bank in Caracas was deemed as having funneled money to Iran’s nuclear program.

“Iran and Venezuela are beyond the courting phase,” Morgenthau said. “We know they are creating a cozy financial, political, and military partnership, and that both countries have strong ties to Hezbollah and Hamas. Now is the time for policies and actions in order to ensure that the partnership produces no poisonous fruit.”

Iran and Venezuela have signed a series of cooperation agreements, including in the areas of defense, energy, finance and joint technology development. In April 2008, Venezuela and Iran signed a memorandum of understanding that stipulated full military support and cooperation. Since at least 2006, Iranian military advisers have been embedded with Venezuelan Army and were establishing weapons factories in remote areas of the country. Two years later, Turkey detained an Iranian ship bound for Venezuela that contained laboratory equipment capable of producing explosives.

“The lack of infrastructure [in Venezuela] is offset by what experts believe to be ideal geographic locations for the illicit production of weapons,” Mr. Morgenthau said. “The mysterious manufacturing plants, controlled by Iran, deep in the interior of Venezuela, give even greater concern.”

View the original article in the Philadelphia Bulletin

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