April 8, 2019 / 4:10 PM / 6 months ago

Iranian delegation travels to Venezuela to discuss direct flight route

LONDON/CARACAS (Reuters) - An Iranian delegation landed in Venezuela on Monday to discuss launching direct flights between the two countries, Venezuela’s foreign minister said, as Tehran voices support for President Nicolas Maduro against the opposition backed by most Western countries.

An Airbus A340 airplane of Mahan Air is seen at Simon Bolivar International Airport outside Caracas, Venezuela April 8, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

A plane belonging to Mahan Air, a private Iranian airline accused by the West of transporting military equipment to Middle East war zones, landed in Caracas on Monday, and the two countries will discuss launching a direct flight “in the coming months,” Minister Jorge Arreaza told reporters.

A White House official said the U.S. government viewed the launch of direct flights as a “politically motivated gesture.”

“From our standpoint, there’s clearly no commercial reason to establish this flight at this time,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Iran’s Mehr news agency quoted the spokesman of Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization Reza Jafarzadeh as saying a delegation from Mahan Air was traveling to Caracas to discuss maintaining regular flights between the two countries. The nonstop Tehran-Caracas flight would take 16 hours.

A Reuters photographer saw a Mahan Air plane parked at Caracas’ main Maiquetia airport on Monday morning.

Mahan Air, established in 1992 as Iran’s first private airline, has the country’s largest fleet of aircraft. The United States imposed sanctions on the company in 2011, saying it provided financial and other support to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards (IRGC).

France and Germany banned the airline’s flights earlier this year, accusing it of transporting military equipment and personnel to Syria and other regional war zones.

Iran has voiced support for Maduro, who faces demands from the opposition and the United States to step down. Russia, China and Turkey have also backed Maduro.

The U.S. government has recognized opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s interim president. Most Latin American countries have done so as well, while European governments have cautiously thrown their support behind Guaido.

Since Guaido began a campaign in January to oust Maduro, whom he denounces as illegitimate, Chinese and Russian planes have flown supplies and military personnel to Venezuela in support of the government.

Reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin in London and Carlos Garcia Rawlins in Caracas; Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton in Washington; Writing by Angus Berwick; Editing by Richard Chang and Phil Berlowitz

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