Iranian warships "have no business" operating in Brazil, a State Department official told the Washington Free Beacon.
The official indicated last week that the State Department has confronted Brazil and other South American countries about the two Iranian warships that docked in Brazil in February. "We have made clear to relevant countries that these ships have no business docking anywhere," the official said.
"Hosting Iranian naval vessels belonging to a regime that is brutally suppressing its own people at home, providing weapons to Russia for use in its war of aggression against Ukraine, and engaging in terrorism and destabilizing weapons proliferation around the world sends the wrong message and is a wrong decision," the official said.
The Biden administration’s stance threatens to open up a diplomatic row between the United States and Brazil, which has signaled that it wants to expand ties with Tehran. Republican hawks like Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) have already called on the State Department to issue "crippling sanctions" on the Rio de Janeiro port hosting the war vessels. The administration’s decision to call out Brazil could hint at a more aggressive stance on Iran’s military operations and growing influence in Latin America as negotiations over a revamped version of the 2015 nuclear deal are stalled.
Regional experts suspect the Iranian ships are being supported by China and Russia, which have made moves to counter U.S. influence in the region by aligning with far-left dictators like Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro.
"Many analysts think that Russia, Iran, and China are just now starting to align but from the part of the world that I watch—Latin America—this alignment happened two decades ago and is now more of an alliance that shares intelligence and has built joint capabilities," Joseph Humire, a national security analyst focusing on Latin America issues as executive director of the Center for a Secure Free Society (SFS) think tank, told the Free Beacon.
State Department spokesman Ned Price said last week that the United States raised the issue with Brazil to "make sure" that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the country’s paramilitary fighting force that conducts anti-U.S. terror operations, "is not able to acquire a foothold, is not able to take advantage of others in this hemisphere."
Secretary of State Antony Blinken also met last week with Brazilian foreign minister Mauro Vieira, though it is unclear if this issue was raised in that talk.
The Iranian ships are equipped "with advanced weapons systems such as anti-ship missiles, naval cannons, and torpedo launchers," according to intelligence gathered by SFS.
The first vessel, known as the IRIS Makran, is a former crude oil tanker retrofitted into a war ship and is the largest ship in Iran’s navy, according to SFS. The second ship, IRIS Dena, is a domestically made light frigate equipped with missiles and cannons. Both ships are part of Iran’s navy and have "been used for various maritime operations to include providing security for naval exercises and asymmetric amphibious assaults."
It is believed that ships were escorted for a time by Chinese naval vessels as they made their way to South America.
The arrival of the war ships in South America coincided with a high-level visit to the region by top Iranian foreign minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, who met with leaders in Venezuela, Columbia, and Cuba last month.
Iran also announced this month it is establishing a direct shipping route with Venezuela, further cementing its presence in the region. An Iranian cargo ship will travel to the country "every three months," according to the Islamic Republic’s state-controlled media.