Iranian warships in Rio de Janeiro are raising concerns abroad

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — The arrival of two Iranian warships in Rio de Janeiro this week, authorized by the Brazilian government to dock, has drawn rebukes from both Israel and the US

“Israel regards the docking of Iranian warships in Brazil a few days ago as a dangerous and regrettable development,” Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Lior Haiat wrote on Twitter on Thursday. “Brazil should not give a prize to a malicious state.”

Haiat’s comments followed others the day before by US State Department spokesman Ned Price. In response to a reporter’s question about the ships reaching Brazil, Price said Washington is discussing the issue with Brazilian partners and wants to make sure that Iran is “unable to get a foothold, unable to exploiting others in our hemisphere.”

“It is certainly not that the Brazilian government, the Brazilian people, want to do anything to help a government, a regime responsible for a brutal crackdown and violent repression of its own people,” he added.

On Thursday, one of the two ships was spotted off Rio’s world-famous south beach zone, while the other was docked downtown. The ships IRIS Makran and IRIS Dena are allowed to remain in Rio until March 4th.

The U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control sanctioned both ships last month.

The Brazilian Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to the Associated Press’s request for comment on the statements by the Israeli and American officials.

The Iranian Navy’s trip comes amid heightened tensions between Tehran and the West over the collapse of its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers and as the Islamic Republic is enriching uranium to weapons-grade levels closer than ever.

Iranian officials have portrayed the trip as a challenge to America’s influence in its own backyard — long a bone of contention since Tehran has consistently criticized the presence of the US Navy’s 5th Fleet in the region, which includes the Persian Gulf and its narrow estuary, the Strategic Straits from, Hormuz patrols.

The state-run IRNA news agency quoted Iranian Navy Commander Rear Admiral Shahram Irani in January as saying: “The Islamic Republic does not have a presence in two strategic straits on the planet, but in the current year the Iranians plan to have a presence there. One of them is the Panama Canal. State media have described the trip as a challenge to American “hegemony.”

Iran has faced nationwide protests and anger following the September death of Masha Amini, a woman who died after being arrested by the country’s vice squad. In the time since these demonstrations, Tehran has tried to deploy its military elsewhere. Tehran has supplied Russia with drones that have killed Ukrainian civilians, conducted drills in a region bordering Azerbaijan and bombed Kurdish positions in Iraq.

Brazil’s President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva made international diplomacy a feature of his second presidential term, which ended in 2010. These included trying to negotiate a US-Iran nuclear deal during his second term as president that same year, though talks broke down.

Lula was elected to return to the presidency in October and rushed to Washington last month to demonstrate his alignment with President Joe Biden. Biden’s climate envoy, John Kerry, was also in Brazil’s capital this week to discuss working together to protect the Amazon rainforest.

In a statement Tuesday, US Senator Ted Cruz noted that the US has already sanctioned the two Iranian warships and the port of Rio de Janeiro and all Brazilian service providers are now under sanctions threat.

“The Biden administration is committed to imposing appropriate sanctions, reassessing Brazil’s cooperation with U.S. counterterrorism efforts, and reexamining Brazil’s ability to maintain effective counterterrorism measures in its ports,” Cruz wrote. Iranian warships in Rio de Janeiro are raising concerns abroad

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