Argentina president says plane grounded over fueling issue, not Iran Quds Force ties

Argentine President Alberto Fernandez insisted Saturday that a Venezuelan cargo plane stuck since early this month at an airport near Buenos Aires had been grounded only due to fueling difficulties, not because of any alleged link to Iran’s elite Quds Force.

There is “no irregularity” with the plane, Fernandez told Radio 10, adding that the sole problem was refueling difficulties linked to US sanctions on Venezuela.

Paraguay said last week that seven crew members of the plane, which stopped in that country in May, were Quds Force members. On Friday, Paraguayan intelligence chief Esteban Aquino named the plane’s captain Gholamreza Ghasemi as one of those men.

The plane was carrying 14 Venezuelan and five Iranian crew members.

But Fernandez blamed his political opponents for spreading the Quds Force accusation, saying they wanted to show “something that is not — something dark” by suggesting a link to terrorism.

The Boeing 747 cargo plane is reportedly carrying car parts. Its crew members have been prevented from leaving Argentina pending an investigation.

Argentina President Alberto Fernandez, June 9, 2022, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

The plane arrived in Argentina from Mexico on June 6, then tried to fly to Uruguay two days later, where it was refused entry.

Uruguay’s Interior Minister Luis Alberto Heber said his country had received a “formal warning from Paraguayan intelligence.”

Expanding the international reverberations in the case, Venezuela on Thursday evening harshly criticized Uruguay for failing to allow the plane to land in Montevideo to refuel.

Police officers confiscate a box of documents during a judicial raid at the Plaza Central Hotel where the crew of a Venezuelan-owned Boeing 747 cargo plane are staying, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Tuesday, June 14, 2022. (AP Photo/Gustavo Garello)

Uruguay’s “regrettable action” could have “caused a tragedy, human lives and damage to both nations,” Venezuela said in a statement, adding that it “demands explanations about this terrible event from the Uruguayan government.”

The plane then returned to Argentina where it has been grounded ever since.

The plane belongs to Emtrasur, a subsidiary of Venezuela’s Conviasa, which is under US sanctions. Conviasa purchased the plane from Tehran’s Mahan Air last year, Iranian officials said.

The United States has accused Mahan Air of links to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.

In this September 22, 2014 photo, members of the Iran’s Revolutionary Guard march during an annual military parade at the mausoleum of Ayatollah Khomeini, outside Tehran, Iran. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi, File)

Israel has meanwhile hailed Argentina’s grounding of the plane, expressing concern over Iran’s activity in Latin America as Tehran continues its efforts to harm Israelis abroad, according to Israeli intelligence.

“The State of Israel is particularly concerned about the activities of the Iranian airlines Mahan Air and Qeshm Fars Air in Latin America,” the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires said in a statement.

The top US diplomat in Argentina also commented on the case.

“We are following with great interest the judicial and law enforcement investigations into the crew and the plane and thank the investigative efforts of Argentine authorities to clear up the situation,” US Ambassador Marc Stanley said in a statement shared with local media.

Interpol still has active arrest warrants for former Iranian leaders suspected of involvement in the suicide bombing of the main Jewish community office building in Buenos Aires in 1994 that killed 85 people and injured hundreds.

More recently, Iran vowed to avenge the killing of an Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps officer last month, blaming Israel for the assassination.

Jerusalem in recent days has called on citizens to leave Turkey immediately, saying it had gotten wind of intelligence that points to Iranian attempts to attack and kidnap Israeli tourists there.

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