Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks to the media after arriving at Viru Viru International Airport in Santa…
Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks to the media after arriving at Viru Viru International Airport in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, early Tuesday, July 23, 2019.

Iran is warning the United States against threatening its tankers carrying fuel to Venezuela, where gasoline and oil are in desperately short supply despite Venezuela being a major oil production center. 

As many as five Iranian ships loaded with gasoline are believed to be on their way to the South American country. 

U.S. sanctions forbid Iran from selling oil and the U.S. is also pressuring all countries against supplying fuel to Venezuela, as part of Washington's efforts to drive President Nicolas Maduro from power. 

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif wrote a letter Sunday to United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres about Tehran’s concerns over whatever action the U.S. might take. 

Iran “reserves its right to take all appropriate and necessary measures and decisive action...to secure its legitimate rights and interests against such bullying policies and unlawful practices,” Zarif wrote. “This hegemonic gunboat diplomacy seriously threatens freedom of international commerce and navigation and the free flow of energy. 

Zarif said Iran would consider any “coercive measures” by the U.S. as a “dangerous escalation.”  

Iranian officials delivered a similar message to the Swiss ambassador in Tehran who handles all U.S. interests in Iran.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin brief reporters about additional sanctions placed on Iran, at the White House, Jan. 10, 2019, in Washington.

U.S. officials have not yet said specifically how they plan to respond if Iran is sending gasoline to Venezuela. 

But the State Department, Treasury, and Coast Guard warned all global shipping companies and governments not to help Iran, or anyone else, dodge sanctions. 

U.S. President Donald Trump re-imposed sanctions on Iran when he pulled the U.S. out of the 2015 nuclear deal, leaving the Iranian economy in shambles. 

The U.S. has also imposed a variety of sanctions against Venezuela, whose economy was destroyed by a drop in global oil prices, corruption, and Maduro’s failed socialist policies. The sanctions have made it difficult for Venezuela to send crude oil to refineries. 

“We have to sell our oil and we have access to its paths,” Iranian cabinet spokesman Ali Rabiei says. “Iran and Venezuela are two independent nations that have had trade with each other, and they will.” 

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