US sanctions five Iranian ship captains over oil delivery to Venezuela
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the Iranian-flagged oil tankers, which delivered some 1.5 million barrels of gasoline and oil to Venezuela in recent weeks, had been placed on the US Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) blacklist.
"Mariners who do business with Iran and Venezuela will face consequences from the United States of America," Pompeo said.
Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza responded on Twitter, calling the move "more proof of the hatred by (US President Donald) Trump's hawks against Venezuela".
"As a result of today's sanctions, these captains' assets will be blocked. Their careers and prospects will suffer from this designation," Pompeo said.
"The rogue regimes in Caracas and Tehran are unified by their penchant for repressing their people, corruption, self-enrichment, and gross mismanagement of their people's wealth," Pompeo added.
The move comes as Venezuela accused Washington Wednesday of "an act of provocation" after a US warship steamed close to the South American country's territorial waters the day before.
The vessel sailed in an area that "the illegitimate Maduro regime falsely claims to have control over," the US Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) said in a statement.
Iran and Venezuela have been strengthening their ties in recent weeks, as both countries suffer under wide-ranging US sanctions.
An Iranian ship loaded with food arrived in Venezuela on Sunday, set to supply the first Iranian supermarket in the South American country, several weeks after Tehran sent a shipment of aid to help fight the coronavirus pandemic.
Earlier in June, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced a planned visit to Iran to further ties and cooperation in energy and other sectors.
"I am obliged to go to personally thank the people," Maduro said in a television address. He did not specify a date for the visit.