Despite Sanction Talk, Venezuela and Vienna Maintain Alliance with Iran

Iran and Venezuela have been building their friendship for years now, with joint banks and similar outlooks on the US, but Caracas denied this week a US report that Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps had an increasing presence in his country.

The Pentagon report presented to the Congress earlier this month reportedly said the Revolutionary Guards’ elite Qods force, which operates internationally, had a growing presence in Latin America, and specifically in Venezuela.

Responding to the US report, Venezuela’s President, Hugo Chavez said, “Look at what they are saying.  If the US applies sanctions to Iran, these forces that are here—something that is absolutely false—could then attack US territory or US interests with terrorist acts.”

Chavez explained the report as part of Washington’s effort to pressure and intimidate Caracas.

“Tell me this isn’t an open threat by the government of the United States against Venezuela once again using infamy and lies,” Chavez was quoted as saying.

But South American countries, like Venezuela and Bolivia, aren’t the only countries interested in working with oil-rich Iran.  A report out this week in the Wall Street Journal said Austria is moving closer towards Iran, as it welcomed Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki.

Vienna on Sunday hosted a joint press conference with Mottaki. As he shook hands with Austrian Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger, the flag of the Islamic Republic flew on top of the building of the foreign ministry, together with those of Austria and the European Union. During the conference, Spindelegger was quoted as saying, “dialogue is a central element” and urged Iran to cooperate so that sanctions could be avoided.  Mottaki thanked his Austrian counterpart for hosting him, referring to Spindelegger as “my friend.”

It remains unclear as to whether or not Austria—a rotating member of the United Nations Security Council—would sign onto a fourth round of sanctions on its trading partner.

All this comes as Austria’s neighbors in Europe are working to reduce their trade ties with Iran, and while the U.S. and other Western countries look to Iran’s neighbors in the Middle East to secure petroleum supplies as a replacement to Iranian supplies.  Yet oil-hungry countries like China continue to remain trading partners with Iran, despite U.S. efforts.

According to the Wall Street Journal report, Austrian exports in general fell 20 percent in 2009; but exports to Iran—which reportedly include sophisticated machinery and electronic goods—rose by almost 6 percent in 2009.  All this while the U.S., Britain, France, and Germany are pushing hard for sanctions on Iran. 

“Bilateral business relations between Austria and Iran are excellent, but still expandable.” No wonder his Iranian counterpart Ali Naghi Khamoushi said a few years back that “Austria is for us the gateway to the European Union.”

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