Iranian FM begins Venezuela visit

Caracas (AFP) –

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Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif began a visit to ally Venezuela on Wednesday, his counterpart in the South American country said.

Jorge Arreaza posted a video on Twitter in which he welcomed "our brother" Zarif as the diplomat disembarked from an airplane.

Arreaza said the pair had "an intense program" to get through during Zarif's visit, without divulging any further details.

Alongside the likes of Russia, China, Cuba and Turkey, Iran is one of Venezuela's main allies.

And like Venezuela it is subject to US sanctions.

Arreaza said the two countries had shown "solidarity and courage in the face of aggressions," without explicitly naming the US, which is in the midst of a bitter election count as Democrat Joe Biden tries to unseat Republican President Donald Trump.

"What an intense day for Iranian foreign minister Zarif and @jaarreaza," wrote Michael Kozak, the top US diplomat for Latin America, on Twitter.

"Busy comparing best practices to oppress your citizens? How to loot and squander the people's resources? Or is it more about how to spread terrorism throughout the world?"

During Trump's nearly four years as president, the US has adopted a far more aggressive foreign policy towards Iran and Venezuela.

In 2018 he withdrew the US from the Iranian nuclear deal claiming it didn't do enough to prevent Tehran from developing an atomic bomb.

He then re-imposed and toughened the previous US sanctions lifted in 2015.

Under Trump, the US has ramped up an embargo on Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro, his inner circle and the state oil company PDVSA.

Washington is also one of around 60 countries to have recognized opposition leader Juan Guaido's claims to be Venezuela's acting president in a direct challenge to Maduro's authority.

Venezuela is sitting on the world's largest proven oil reserves but its production -- hampered by failing infrastructure, a lack of maintenance and investment, a crippled economy and US sanctions -- has fallen to one-eighth of its level 12 years ago.

Caracas has had to turn to allies like Iran for fuel in recent months to help ease shortages.