LONDON: A recently signed cooperation agreement between Iran and Venezuela will see the two pariah states further integrate their economies, but one state rich in oil and poor in legitimacy cannot solve the woes of another, experts say.
On Saturday, embattled Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro appeared on Iranian state media in northern Tehran to sign a 20-year “cooperation agreement” with his Iranian counterpart, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi.
The deal, according to Raisi, will see the two countries cooperate in the oil, petrochemical, defense, agriculture, tourism and culture sectors. But more than the economy, the signing of the deal – an unlikely pact between a theocratic Shia regime on one side and a communist dictatorship on the other – figured prominently in signing the deal, the United States States and their sanctions regime against each country, as well as the two nations’ relations with the international community at large.
“Venezuela has shown exemplary resistance against sanctions and threats from enemies and imperialists,” said Iranian Raisi. “The 20-year cooperation document demonstrates the will of the two countries to develop their relations.
“Sanctions and threats against the Iranian nation over the past 40+ years have been many, but the Iranian nation has turned these sanctions into an opportunity for the country’s progress.”
But for Yossi Mekelberg, associate researcher in the MENA program at Chatham House, the agreement does not solve the fundamental problem in the two countries: “bad governance”.
“Iran and Venezuela could be two of the richest countries in the world, and they are not,” he told Arab News. “If you look at their natural resources, not to mention Venezuela with its natural reserves, their oil industries are collapsing.”
Today, as demand for oil and gas soars, Venezuela and Iran are expected to prosper – but their governments have prevented the “gold rush” that other oil-exporting countries are currently experiencing and using. energy to prepare for the post-fossil era.
“Iran and Venezuela are countries that could prosper, their problem is bad governance. Whether they are leftist or clerical parties, it doesn’t matter, they are failed states,” Mekelberg said.
He pointed out that the two countries also have a contentious relationship with the United States and the wider international community.
“Their alliance is the alliance of those who under sanctions can’t really deal with their own domestic issues and then fell in their own areas, so they’re trying to find a way out by supporting each other. others,” he added. said.
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“There’s an internal logic to it all, but I don’t think it’s going to help them much. They have to deal with the world. Two failing economies do not make one successful.
With specific regard to energy – each country’s main export – does the agreement signed in Tehran do anything to help the growth of their economies?
With Iran and Venezuela both being major oil and energy producers, “they’re not going to export to each other,” Mekelberg said.
However, the two countries have made some progress in exchanging expertise. Iranian engineers have helped repair dilapidated Venezuelan facilities and will soon begin work on Venezuela’s largest refinery.
“But what they really need is investment,” Mekelberg said – something he doesn’t think either country is capable of doing in the volumes required.
While the economic aspects of the deal are likely to raise few eyebrows – the two have cooperated for years in the illegal exchange of oil and other commodities – the potential for further cooperation on defense is perhaps more of a concern to those in South America, the Middle East and the United States.
Since 2006, Venezuela and Iran have cooperated militarily. In a speech to the Brookings Institution in 2009, a New York prosecutor sounded the alarm over Iran’s training of Venezuelan fighters as Hezbollah-like terrorists.
“It has been reported that since 2006 Iranian military advisers have been integrated into Venezuelan troops,” said the late Robert Morgenthau. “Asymmetric warfare, taught to members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Hezbollah and Hamas, has replaced US Army field manuals as standard Venezuelan military doctrine.”
And the potential for nuclear cooperation is perhaps even more concerning. According to a 2008 report by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Venezuela has approximately 50,000 tons of uranium deposits ready for exploitation.
While warnings about the potential for nuclear cooperation have persisted for years, the stalled progress of the ongoing Iranian nuclear talks in Vienna, accompanied by increasingly short break times predicted by experts, means the new deal could play an outsized role in the development of Iran’s nuclear weapons.
“Venezuela’s support for Iran’s nuclear program has fluctuated in recent years, with intelligence sources previously indicating that (late President Hugo) Chavez had considered buying uranium from Iran at the same time as he began talks to buy a nuclear reactor from Argentina,” said Rhiannon Phillips. MENA associate analyst at political risk consultancy Sibylline, told Arab News.
“Cooperation on ‘defense projects’ may hint at Iranian partnerships on offensive and combat drone technology, raising significant concern for Western allies. Again, this is not a new trend, with Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz raising concerns about Iranian MoHajjer drones in Venezuela earlier this year, with reported ranges of up to 200km.
Phillips added: “Iranian support for terrorism is already a key driver of geopolitical hostilities in the Middle East, notably between Tehran (on the one hand) and Saudi Arabia and Israel (on the other). But it could heighten concerns for Latin American countries if Venezuelan capabilities exceed or violate the regional security threshold.
“In particular, Diego Molano, Colombian Minister of Defense, has previously expressed concern about the presence of Iranian proxies in Venezuela, namely Hezbollah militants, and the likelihood that these groups will seek to use Iranian military technology to carry out national attacks.
Phillips also said Iran has long been implicated in terrorism in the Middle East – the specter that the Iran-Venezuela cooperation agreement threatens to resurrect.
The 1994 AMIA suicide bombing of a Jewish cultural center in Argentina killed 85 people and injured hundreds more. In 2006, Argentine prosecutors formally accused the Iranian government and Hezbollah of carrying out the attack. And it seems Argentina haven’t forgotten that attack.
On Sunday, authorities in Argentina grounded a Boeing 747 sold to Venezuela by Iranian airline Mahan, an airline closely linked to the IRGC and sanctioned by the US government.
According to an Argentine Interior Ministry document shared with Reuters by Argentine lawmaker Gerardo Milman, 14 Venezuelans and 5 Iranians were traveling on the plane. Milman warned: “Our information is that this is a plane that came to carry out intelligence activities in Argentina.”
It’s unclear what the officers were investigating. What is clear, however, is that Argentina, deeply and tragically familiar with Iranian terrorism, does not want to risk finding out.