Balancing Venezuelan-Iranian Relations
(International Relations and Security Network, 14/12/2006)
With presidential elections behind him, many observers believe that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez will start his quest to create a New World Order, one where the US is in a weakened position economically and diplomatically, if not also militarily, to influence other countries around the world. The Islamic Republic of Iran appears to be the country most aligned with Chavez’s global plans to undermine US power in the world.
Looking beyond close economic and diplomatic ties, it appears that Iran’s leaders see Venezuela as an important geopolitical part of their own plans to undermine US power. However, some experts argue that the relationship between these countries is more evenly balanced than at first glance.
There are clear indications, experts say, that Venezuela and Iran have been working together to further their common foreign policy goals.
The two countries have formed an alliance within the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to counterbalance what they view as a powerful and influential partnership between the US and Saudi Arabia.
In addition, Venezuela’s support of an Iranian nuclear energy program is part of a larger strategic alliance that creates a gravitational center around which other countries can orbit in opposition to US hegemony. Venezuela’s partnership with Iran moves the country a little closer to acceptance on the global stage.
Finally, Iran’s increased presence inside Venezuela opens another front from which Iran may launch geopolitical attacks on the US. Iran seeks to outflank the US and work with Chavez to force Washington into a more defensive stance.
Perception as a deterrent
“Since the war in Iraq has changed the power dynamics in the Middle East, Iran is unquestionably the strongest and most robust regional power,” Islamic studies professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, Reza Aslan, told ISN Security Watch.
“While they’ve done a pretty good job of extending their reach across that region, what they want to do now is reach beyond the Middle East, and they see Chavez as a real ally in so far as trying to not only combat the unipolarization of the world, but also to feed off of each other,” Aslan said.
The most logical starting point was oil and Saudi Arabia’s hegemonic position within OPEC, he said. The close relationship between the US and its Middle Eastern ally exists because the former is the largest single market for oil, while the latter is the largest single source of oil. Saudi Arabia’s privileged position gives it some sway in Washington - something both Venezuela and Iran would like to change.
Together, the two countries control a significant portion of the world’s proven reserves. Neither can compete with Saudi Arabia in terms of export, but the perception of a closely united Iran and Venezuela cancels some of the power Saudi Arabia has over dictating export quotas and the price of oil. But the focus is not entirely on Saudi Arabia.
A sudden cut off of Iranian and Venezuelan oil likely would produce a spike in price that Saudi Arabia would not be able to quickly control at Washington’s request. The threat of closing down exports in Iran and Venezuela becomes more tangible as these countries grow closer together.
New World Order
Undermining the US' ambitions in around the world is the one unifying factor that brings Iran and Venezuela closer together, experts say. The pair, along with Cuba and other countries that form the core group of the Non-Aligned Movement, have created a gravitational core of countries that all seek to topple what many feel is a US economic and military empire.
This group of smaller countries seems to have unofficially tapped Chavez as their leader. Iran would happily stand at the forefront, but cannot due to Washington’s efforts to convince the rest of the world that Iran is their enemy, not just a US enemy.
“Whenever Iran seeks to do business with a country, the United States tries to convince that country not to do business with Iran,” Trita Parsi, the president and co-founder of the National Iranian American Council, told ISN Security Watch. “When Iran finds a market where it does not have to deal with that aspect, it’s an opportunity the Iranians can hardly afford to say no to.”
Iran has emerged as a regional power in the Middle East – a power that some observers say the US must eventually engage and recognize as a regional leader, if it hopes to succeed in Iraq.
Within Latin America, Venezuela has also emerged as a regional power, wielding considerable influence over a number of Caribbean nations, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Bolivia, Argentina, oppositional movements in Peru and Mexico and possibly the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Due to Venezuela’s regional leadership position and the fact that Chavez will remain in power for at least another six years, conservative observers say Washington cannot longer afford the luxury of ignoring Venezuela, just like it can no longer ignore Iran’s influential role in Iraq.
Aslan described the relationship between Iran and Venezuela as “one of these strange bedfellows the war on terror has created.”
“It’s not one of the only ones, but one of the more interesting,” he said.
Iran’s relationship with Venezuela has become a bullet point on the list of developing situations for closer observation and study in Washington.
During US National Intelligence Director John Negroponte's testimony to the US Senate’s Select Intelligence Committee on 2 February, he outlined his concern for Iran’s nuclear weapons program as well as the country’s efforts to increase trade and beat sanctions.
Dan Burton, former chair of the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere of the Committee on International Relations, has been much more forceful with his language. In a statement during a hearing on energy security earlier this year, Burton said: “Any alliance between terrorist-sponsoring nations and leftist leaders in Latin America will be viewed as a serious and direct threat to the security of the United States and our friends in the hemisphere.”
Rumors abound – rumors such as Venezuela mining uranium to send to Iran. Even if there are just shreds of truth to such murmurings, perception is again a factor at play.
Beyond the rumors, experts say there is one resounding fact that cannot be ignored: Venezuela and Iran will only deepen their relationship in the future, as they need each other to further geopolitical strategies to undermine US power in both the Middle East and Latin America.
The Iran-Venezuelan partnership has become a mutually beneficial relationship that some fear could evolve from a nuisance to what Burton has called a “direct threat,” and those same observers fear that 2007 will decide to what extent the threat is real and the rumors are true.