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Iranian president says U.S. should leave Venezuela-bound gas tankers alone

Iranian president says U.S. should leave Venezuela-bound gas tankers alone
In this April photo, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a cabinet meeting in Tehran. Photo via EPA-EFE

May 23 (UPI) -- Iran's President, Hassan Rouhani, warned the United States Saturday not to create trouble for a group of Iranian oil tankers headed for Venezuela to help the latter country address a major fuel shortage.

"If our oil tankers in the Caribbean Sea or anywhere else in the world get into trouble caused by the Americans, they (US) will run into trouble reciprocally," Rouhani said in a telephone conversation with Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani.

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Rouhani said Iran would never "start tensions and clashes" but would retaliate if provoked.

Last month U.S. officials said they were monitoring five oil tankers crossing the Atlantic with 60 million gallons of Iranian gasoline headed toward Venezuelan waters.

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The shipment is intended to address a fuel shortage in the formerly oil-rich Venezuela, where produce is said to be rotting on farms for lack of shipping and where sick individuals cannot be taken to the hospital.

It's also evidence of a deepening alliance between the two countries.

"You have two pariah states finding that they are able to exchange things they need for things they have," Elliott Abrams, U.S. special representative to Venezuela, told the Washington Post.

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Earlier this spring the Trump administration offered to lift sanctions from Venezuela if the country agreed to create an interim transitional government and hold a free and fair presidential election in less than a year.

Venezuela's government, led by Nicolas Maduro, rejected that offer.

The United States has also invoked the Monroe Doctrine -- which rejects outside intervention in the Western Hemisphere -- to move against foreign entities that do business with Venezuela.

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In Rouhani's call with al-Thani Saturday, he said countries need to cooperate collectively and said the United States was proceeding with "incorrect decisions and inhumane behavior."

He also stressed the need to restart economic relations between Iran and Qatar, with the Emir replying that Qatar would do its utmost to reduce tensions.

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