Two Iranian Navy ships believed to be heading to Venezuela are expected to reach the Atlantic Ocean as soon as Thursday, according to U.S. officials tracking them.
The ships are on track to round the Cape of Good Hope and reach the Atlantic, and were still moving south on Wednesday, reports Politico.
Security officials tracking them said they don't know exactly where the ships are heading but believe they're heading for Venezuela, the website first reported Saturday, quoting sources who requested anonymity.
The fact that the warships are sailing into the Atlantic Ocean could prove as a test for the Biden administration as it attempts to negotiate with Tehran about its nuclear program.
The ships include the Makran, a former oil tanker converted into a floating forward staging base, and a frigate, the officials said.
Iran has threatened before to send warships to the Atlantic but has only made it so far to South Africa in 2016, where it settled for an emergency port call. However, Iran has sent tankers in the past to dock in Venezuela, where they delivered oil while defying U.S. sanctions.
Tehran top officials confirmed the ships, but the Iranian Foreign Ministry Monday warned the United States against action about the warships sailing in international waters.
"Iran is always present in international waters and has this right under international law and can be present in international waters," Foreign Ministry spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh told reporters in Tehran. "No country can violate this right. Those who sit in glass houses should be careful."
Behnam Ben Taleblu, an Iran expert at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told Politico that Tehran wants to deepen its influence in Latin America and the Western Hemisphere, and "Venezuela offers Tehran a forward operating base."
U.S. officials say the ships have stopped a few times during their journey indicating they could turn around but since last Friday have been making progress heading south.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., the vice-chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said the United States should prevent the Iranian ships from pulling into Venezuela.
"There are only two reasons why an Iranian warship would travel half a world away to make a port call in Venezuela — to deliver military cargo they have sold them (and) to test the U.S. by conducting joint exercises with them," Rubio said on Twitter. "We should allow neither to happen.”
A U.S. defense official said there are no plans to send ships to monitor or to turn around the Iranian ships.
Further, the ships' cargo is not known, but satellite photos of the Makran in April and May showed the boat leaving a port in Iran carrying seven high-speed fast attack craft on its deck, and another picture taken in May shows the Makran in the Strait of Hormuz, and the boats were still on it.
The attack boats are consistent with those used by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy which patrols the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz, and with those that have been used to harass U.S. ships in international waters in recent months.
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