(CNSNews.com) – The White House on Wednesday upheld Brazil’s sovereign right to host two U.S.-sanctioned Iranian warships, even as it repeated earlier assertions that the vessels “have no business docking anywhere.”
“Brazil is a sovereign country,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said during a daily briefing. “They make their own decision on how they engage with any country, including with Iran.”
“But more broadly,” she continued, “these ships have been designated for U.S. sanctions and have been used to facilitate illicit activities. We have made clear to relevant countries that these ships have no business docking anywhere.”
The Iranian Navy frigate IRIS Dena and tanker IRIS Makran were initially expected to dock in the port of Rio de Janeiro in late January. Iran’s Fars new agency reported that month that the warships’ visit to Brazil would mark “the first ever presence of the Iranian Navy in the Americas’ waters.”
Brazilian authorities then rescheduled the visit to February 26-March 4, reportedly so as to avoid diplomatic awkwardness ahead of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s visit to the White House on February 10.
In the Oval Office alongside da Silva, Biden said that the U.S. and Brazil together stand up for democratic values, “not just in our hemisphere but around the world.”
Five days after that meeting, Brazilian media reported that U.S. Ambassador to Brazil Elizabeth Bagley was urging da Silva’s government not to allow the Iranian ships to dock for the rescheduled visit.
“These ships have in the past facilitated illicit trade and terrorist activities,” the news site CartaCapital quoted Bagley as saying. “Brazil is a sovereign country, but we strongly believe that these ships should not dock anywhere.”
On February 3, the U.S. Treasury Department designated the two ships for sanctions under an Obama-era executive order targeting property of Iranian government and financial institutions.
The designation notice stated that any person or foreign financial institution engaging in transactions with the ships could also expose themselves to U.S. sanctions:
“[P]ersons that engage in certain transactions with the individuals or entities designated today may themselves be exposed to sanctions. Furthermore, any foreign financial institution that knowingly facilitates a significant transaction or provides significant financial services for any of the individuals or entities designated today pursuant to E.O. 13382 could be subject to U.S. sanctions.”
On Tuesday, State Department spokesman Ned Price was asked about the possibility of sanctions targeting the Rio port or any company providing fuel or other supplies.
“If it were found that the Brazilian port operator and attendant companies – caterers, fuel suppliers, whoever – provided this, provided these two ships, sanctioned ships, with assistance, with support, would the sanctions apply?” Price was asked.
“As we always do, we marry the facts with the law and arrive at a decision,” he replied. “But we don’t preview those decisions.”
In the course of his answers, Price repeatedly stressed that Brazil was a “partner,” a term he used more than a dozen times.
“Brazil, of course, is a close partner of the United States; it’s a close democratic partner of the United States,” he said.
“It’s our impression that no democracy in this hemisphere or anywhere else would want these kinds of Iranian assets, these warships docking in their ports. We want to continue to work with our Brazilian partners to send the right message to Iran, to others who would pose a threat, pose a challenge to our collective interests around the world.”
Asked if the U.S. government has made Brazil aware that it could be risking secondary sanctions since the warships are designated, Price said, “We are a partner to Brazil; Brazil is a partner to us.”
“Have they been told?” a reporter pressed.
“We have discussions with our Brazilian partners on a range of issues. They, I am confident, are aware of existing sanctions authorities.”
‘Dangerous and regretful’
Da Silva’s left-wing government opposes any sanctions that are not authorized by the U.N. Security Council, including sanctions imposed by the U.S. and allies against Russia over the invasion of Ukraine.
Da Silva returned to office in January, 12 years after leaving the presidency, which he had held from 2003-2010.
During his previous tenure, da Silva’s government joined Turkey in voting against a U.S.-led U.N. Security Council resolution imposing sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program. (Lebanon abstained). The vote in mid-2010 was a setback for the Obama administration, which had hoped for a unanimous resolution to send a clear message to the regime in Tehran.
(Between 2006 and 2008 the Bush administration had managed three times to achieve unanimous Security Council votes for sanctions resolutions against Iran – no opposing votes, and no abstentions.)
Last week Israel’s foreign ministry urged Brazil to call off the port visit then underway, calling it “a dangerous and regretful development.”
“Brazil should not grant any prize to a malign state, responsible for numerous violations of human rights against its own citizens, executing terror attacks all over the world and proliferating weaponry to terrorist organizations all over the Middle East,” said ministry spokesman Lior Haiat.
He urged Brazil to “follow the steps taken by the E.U., U.S.A., Canada, Australia, Japan and many other countries, and single out the Iranian regime as what it really is: A terror entity.”
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