Iranian Warships Finally Dock in Rio de Janeiro After U.S. Issues Sanction Threat

February 28, 2023 6:30 PM
IRINS Makran. FARS Photo

A pair of Iranian warships pulled into Rio de Janeiro on Sunday after a month of waiting in the southern Atlantic Ocean, USNI News has learned.

According to photos from ship spotters, the Iranian surface group passed the Fortress of Santa Cruz on Sunday. Photos from Reuters show Dena docked at the Wharf of Gamboa general cargo terminal on Tuesday.

The government of newly-elected Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva gave permission for IRIS Makran and IRIS Dena to dock in the country shortly after returning from a state visit to Washington, D.C.

Brazil had initially given permission for the two ships, which deployed from Iran last year, to make a port visit in January, but that was delayed after U.S. pressure. Brazil and Iran have had an ongoing trade relationship.

On Feb. 3, the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control targeted Makran and Dena as Iranian property for sanctions related to a wider effort to punish the Iranian lethal drone industry.

“Iranian entities continue to produce UAVs for Iran’s IRGC and military. More broadly, Iran is supplying UAVs for Russia’s combat operations to target critical infrastructure in Ukraine,” said Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian Nelson in a statement. “The United States will continue to aggressively target all elements of Iran’s UAV program.”

In its statement, the Treasury Department alleged that Makran could launch lethal drones and included Dena under the sanctions since it was part of the same surface action group.

“[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 … could be subject to U.S. sanctions,” reads the statement.

The decision to allow the warships to make the port visit is a win for Tehran, Behnam Ben Taleblu, an Iran expert at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, told USNI News.

“Given that the Makran and another vessel were sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury earlier in February, their docking in Brazil, particularly after President Lula da Silva’s U.S. visit, will paint Washington as falling flat in its face when it comes to using sanctions to deter precisely this sort of activity,” he said.

“Expect more, not less of these displays by Iran as it looks to use the Makran to project strength and convey political enmeshment not isolation.”

Iranian officials said in January that they plan to send the ships through the Panama Canal later this year.

Makran, a converted oil tanker, carries with it enough fuel to supply the two ships during its cruise. Before the Rio port call, the pair made a port call in Jakarta, Indonesia. It’s unclear where the surface group had operated between the planned January visit and Sunday’s port call.

In addition to the sanctions, American officials have been public on their condemnation of the port visit.

“In the past, those ships facilitated illegal trade and terrorist activities, and have also been sanctioned by the United States. Brazil is a sovereign nation, but we firmly believe those ships should not dock anywhere,” U.S. Ambassador to Brazil Elizabeth Bagley said in a statement.
In a Tuesday statement, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said “the docking of Iranian warships in Brazil is a dangerous development and a direct threat to the safety and security of Americans.”

Sam LaGrone

Sam LaGrone

Sam LaGrone is the editor of USNI News. He has covered legislation, acquisition and operations for the Sea Services since 2009 and spent time underway with the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and the Canadian Navy.
Follow @samlagrone

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