A US Navy ship has navigated near the Venezuelan coast in what the US military’s Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) called a “freedom of navigation operation,” a day after a cargo ship from US foe Iran docked at a port of the South American country.
In a post on its website, SOUTHCOM said the USS Nitze, a missile destroyer, sailed in an area outside Venezuela‘s territorial waters – which extend some 12 nautical miles (22km) from its coasts – but within an area the Venezuelan government “falsely claims to have control over”.
“The United States will continue to fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows, preserving the rights, freedoms and lawful use of the sea and airspace guaranteed to all nations,” Admiral Craig Faller, SOUTHCOM commander, said in the statement on Tuesday.
A spokesman told AFP that a similar operation had taken place in January.
The move comes after the Trump administration in April said it was deploying more US military assets to the Caribbean, in part to disrupt alleged narcotics shipments by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, a socialist viewed as illegitimate by the US and dozens of other mostly Western countries.
With US sanctions on its key oil industry leaving Venezuela increasingly isolated, Maduro last month turned to Iran – another country under heavy US sanctions – for fuel shipments. Washington said it was considering a response to those shipments, but took no military action.
BREAKING: #USSNitze conducts a freedom of navigation operation, contesting an excessive maritime claim by #Venezuela. The @USNavy ship lawfully navigated an area the illegitimate #Maduro regime falsely claims control over. @StateDept @DeptofDefense 1 of 3 https://t.co/mf9Hbfpdhs
— U.S. Southern Command (@Southcom) June 23, 2020
On Monday, the Iranian-flagged cargo ship Golsan docked in the Venezuelan port of La Guaira carrying what Iran’s Embassy in Caracas said was food to supply the South American nation’s first Iranian supermarket. There was no indication that the Golsan and Nitze confronted each other.
Neither Venezuela‘s information ministry nor its armed forces’ press office immediately responded to requests for comment.
President Donald Trump has insisted that all options are on the table to remove Maduro, but US officials have made clear there is little appetite for military force.