NEW YORK (AP) — U.S. officials frowned upon the opening of an Iranian supermarket in Venezuela’s capital, saying Thursday that any presence of Iran in the Western Hemisphere is “not something we look very favorably on.”
Acting Assistant Secretary for U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs Michael Kozak told journalists in a call that the opening of the market shows this is like an alliance of “pariah” states.
“I would be surely surprised if Venezuela is able to obtain much benefit from Iran,” said Kozak in his response to a reporter’s question about the supermarket. “Iran is willing to play around, is willing to sell stuff to Venezuela when Venezuela really does not have the money to be buying very much.”
An Iranian cargo ship docked in Venezuela in June carrying food for the new market in Caracas, weeks after the Islamic Republic had already sent five tankers loaded with gasoline to the fuel-starved nation. The recent deliveries signal a newly blossoming relationship between the two nations in defiance of stiff financial sanctions by the Trump administration against each of them.
The new Megasis supermarket, in the east of Caracas, was launched Wednesday amid a tightening of the coronavirus quarantine. The inauguration was a private event attended only by Venezuelan government officials, Iranian diplomatic personnel and businessmen, according to images a journalist for the Telesur television channel posted on her Twitter account.
The supermarket is expected to open to the public this week.
Kozak described Iran on Thursday as “the world’s biggest sponsor on terrorism.”
“Iran is not going to save Venezuela from the situation it has put itself in, but it does put itself in a more dangerous situation by playing these games,” he said.
Megasis is headed by Iranian businessman Issa Rezaei, who runs a chain of 700 supermarkets in Iran.
On Tuesday, Rezaei said on Twitter that “our goal is commercial.” He also said he is buying Venezuelan products like mangos, pineapples and wood to take to Iran.
Venezuela has the world’s largest oil reserves, and critics of President Nicolás Maduro point to the nation’s reliance on Iran for gasoline as an example of the socialist government’s failure.
The U.S. seeks to oust Maduro, backing his political rival Juan Guaidó.
Maduro blames many of the problems on U.S. sanctions and other measures to undermine his rule. He says the U.S. wants to install a puppet government so it can exploit Venezuela’s vast resources.