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US calls on allies to help block Iran-Venezuela flights

written by Sandy Milne | May 1, 2020
A Mahan Air A340-600 (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has called on allies to deny overflight rights to Mahan Air, Iran’s largest privately-owned airline, after accusing it of delivering “unknown support” to Venezuela amid the COVID-19 crisis.

Both countries have been hit hard by sanctions by successive US administrations. Though measures against the Venezuelan government date back to the Obama era, they were escalated steeply in 2019 following the presidential controversy involving opposition leader Juan Guaido.

Speaking at a State Department news briefing, Secretary Pompeo said, “Over the last few days, multiple aircraft belonging to Mahan Air have transferred unknown support to the Maduro regime.

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“This is the same terrorist airline that Iran used to move weapons and fighters around the Middle East.”

Local media reported that a Mahan Air Airbus A340 landed at Las Piedras Airport, in the western state of Falcòn, on 26 April. Similar flights were also recorded by flight-tracking service Flightradar24 (and reviewed by Reuters), with some detouring to China before making their way to the South American nation.

According to Venezuela’s vice minister for refining and petrochemicals Erling Rojas, the country has been receiving shipments from Iran in an attempt to jump-start the country’s resource-dependent economy. He claims that Iran has provided materials to assist with restarting the Cardon Refinery’s catalytic cracking unit.

The flights “must stop”, Secretary Pompeo said, adding that countries should deny Mahan Air overflight rights “just as many have already denied landing rights to this sanctioned airline”.

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