Iran says will respond to any trouble to its oil tankers

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"We're ready for whatever, whenever", said Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro on Wednesday as his nation's defense ministry announced it would begin using Navy warships to escort Iranian oil tankers to port amid fears the USA government would try to interfere with deliveries of much-needed fuel supplies to the South American nation.

Venezuela has the world's largest proven oil reserves, but its capacity to refine crude into gasoline is limited.

"We shouldn't have had to end up importing gasoline from Iran", said Coromoto Alvarez, 61, a retired nurse who arrived at a PDVSA gas station in Caracas' La Bandera neighborhood at 3 a.m. Tuesday.

Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez said that when the Iranian ships enter the oceanic economic zone-200 nautical miles from the coastline- "they will be welcomed" by Venezuelan naval ships and warplanes.

The five Iranian tankers - Fortune, Forest, Petunia, Faxon and Clavel - are carrying about 1.5m barrels of fuel and passed through the Suez Canal earlier this month, according to shipping data on Refinitiv Eikon.

The US-backed Venezuelan opposition leader, Juan Guaidó, said the need to import petrol highlighted the mismanagement of Venezuela's oil industry by President Nicolás Maduro's government.

Also, government spokesman Ali Rabiei on Monday warned that Iran is ready to respond to any act of piracy against its tankers by the United States.

In early April the U.S. military said it was increasing its vigilance and deploying warships in the ocean near Venezuela, arguing that there was an increase in organized crime.

Iran has often expressed its support for the Maduro regime, which also counts on support from Russia, China, Turkey and Cuba.

The president's remarks come amid escalating tensions over Iranian fuel shipments to Venezuela.

"We are hopeful that nothing would happen there", said Gholam-Hossein Dehghani, Iran's ambassador to Brussels, addressing the possibility the United States could try and block the oil tankers.

"Of course, our policy is quite clear, and we have made it clear that we will not tolerate any harassment", he stressed, adding, "The Americans and others know that we will certainly not hesitate to react to this issue, and if the harassment intensifies and continues, it will certainly face a decisive response". The US leader had previously threatened Venezuela with a naval blockade.

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