MIDDLE EAST

Iran's Mahan Air begins direct flights to Venezuela

Reuters Photo

Iran's second largest airline has begun direct flights to Venezuela, as Tehran voices support for Caracas against a U.S.-backed opposition.

Iran's official IRNA news agency says Mahan Air's first flight to Venezuela left Tehran on Monday carrying a Foreign Ministry delegation.

Spokesman of Iran's Civil Aviation Organization Reza Jafarzadeh told Mehr news agency that a delegation from Mahan Air was also traveling to Caracas to discuss maintaining regular flights between the two countries.

The non-stop Tehran-Caracas flight will take 16 hours.

Mahan Air, established in 1992 as Iran's first private airline, has the country's largest fleet of aircraft.

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.

The United States imposed sanctions on the company in 2011, saying it provided financial and other support to Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards (IRGC).

Iran has voiced support for Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro who faces demands from the United States to step down. Turkey, Russia and China 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 are also throwing their support behind Guaido, albeit more cautiously.

President Donald Trump restored tough sanctions on Iran after withdrawing from the 2015 nuclear agreement last year, and has increased sanctions on Venezuela to pressure the government to hand over power to the opposition.

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