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Iran threat: Venezuela seeks to buy missiles from Iran which could put US in range

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The reports – coming on the same day Iran showcased two new weapons – including one named after assassinated Revolutionary Guards chief Qassem Soleimani – will focus attention on links between the two nations, with the US last week claiming it seized four Iranian oil tankers bound for the South American country. If true, the move would undoubtedly infuriate US President Donald Trump.

The administration of Venezuela’s President, Nicolas Maduro, was seeking to acquire weapons from Tehran, claimed Mr Duque, and was also handing over weapons made in Russia and Belarus to armed groups in Colombia, claimed Columbia’s Ivan Duque.

Speaking during a virtual event, he said: “There is information from international intelligence organisms that work with us which shows there is interest from the dictatorship of Nicolas Maduro in acquiring some medium and long-range missiles through Iran.

“The information is that the missiles still haven’t arrived but there has been contact especially under instructions from Venezuela Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino.

Like the United States, Colombia does not recognise Mr Maduro as Venezuela’s legitimate leader and Mr Duque has branded him as a dictator.

The Colombian government is one of more than 50 countries which consider opposition leader Juan Guaido to be Venezuela’s president.

Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza swiftly dismissed the claim, tweeting: “In Colombia the massacres, unleashed violence, uncontrollable drug trafficking do not stop.

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“@IvanDuque returns to infamies and anti-Venezuelan fiction to distract public opinion.”

In the past, Venezuela has bought weapons from countries including China and Russia.

Venezuela has been hit by rocketing inflation in recent years, with its citizens struggling to pay for basics such as fuel – even though the country possesses enormous oil reserves.

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The neighbouring country’s 1,380-mile (2,219 kilometre) border is home to numerous armed groups heavily involved in drug trafficking and illegal gold mining.

Colombia is the top destination for Venezuelans who have fled their country in recent years. More than 1.7 million Venezuelans currently live there.

Speaking last week, a senior US official said no military force was used in the seizures and that the ships were not physically confiscated.

Rather, officials threatened ship owners, insurers and captains with sanction to force them to hand over their cargo, which now becomes US property, the official said.

Venezuela is just over 1,200 miles from the tip of Florida.

Iran claims to be in possession of at least two classes of operational missile – the Sejjil, a medium range ballistic missile (MRBM) with a range of 1,250 miles and the Soumar, a cruise missile with a range of between 1,250 and 1,850 miles – which would put Miami in range.

During the course of his televised speech today in which he unveiled the missiles, defence minister Amir Hatami said: “The surface-to-surface missile, called martyr Qassem Soleimani, has a range of 1,400 km and the cruise missile, called martyr Abu Mahdi, has a range of over 1,000 km.”

Commentators described the Abu Mahdi as “the newest Iranian cruise missile that will further strengthen Iran’s deterrence power”.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani: “Missiles and particularly cruise missiles are very important for us the fact that we have increased the range from 300 to 1,000 in less than two years is a great achievement.

“Our military might and missile programmes are defensive.”

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