Iran’s second largest airline Mahan Air began offering direct flights to Venezuela on Monday. Mahan Air is under U.S. sanctions for ties to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), designated a foreign terrorist organization this week.
Iran’s official IRNA news agency confirmed that Mahan Air’s first flight to Caracas left Tehran on Monday carrying a delegation of Foreign Ministry officials. A spokesperson for Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization, Reza Jafarzadeh, also revealed that Mahan Air executives were on the 16-hour flight to discuss future air travel between the two nations.
Mahan Air boasts a fleet of 37 aircraft traveling to over 50 destinations around the world. The Obama administration placed sanctions on the airline in 2011 for their support of the IRGC, who are themselves accused of egregious human rights abuses. Last year, the governments of both France and Germany banned the airline from operating, alleging they illegally transported military equipment and personnel to Syria and other areas of regional conflict.
Over recent years, many airlines have stopped traveling to Venezuela following a collapse in demand and safety concerns. Last month, American Airlines announced they were suspending all flights to the country after the company’s pilot union raised concerns about traveling there. They had previously offered direct flights from Miami, where there is a sizable Venezuelan population, to Caracas.
Iran and Venezuela enjoy warm diplomatic relations under their respective regimes. This year, the Iranian Foreign Ministry backed Maduro against attempts by opposition leader Juan Guaidó to assume the presidency and instigate a transition to democracy in the crisis-stricken country.
“The Islamic Republic of Iran supports Venezuela’s government and nation against any kind of foreign interference in its internal affairs or any illegal act, such as attempts (to stage) a coup and anti-people measures,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Bahram Qassemi declared at the time. “We hope that any political disagreement or problem in Venezuela will be resolved by the people and government of the country as soon as possible through adopting legal and peaceful solutions,”
The State Department recently warned Americans against all travel to Venezuela, citing “crime, civil unrest, poor health infrastructure, and arbitrary arrest and detention of U.S. citizens.” A similar warning is also issued for Iran. “There is a very high risk of arrest and detention of U.S. citizens in Iran, particularly U.S.-Iranian dual nationals,” the website reads. “Iranian authorities continue to unjustly detain and imprison U.S. citizens, including students, journalists, business travelers, and academics, on charges including espionage and posing a threat to national security.”