TEHRAN, Iran, (AP) -Venezuela has agreed to sell gasoline to Iran, the South American county’s energy minister said in comments published Tuesday, a week after the Islamic country imposed a fuel rationing program that has sparked violence.
“Yes, Iranians have asked to buy gasoline from us and we have accepted this demand,” Rafael Ramirez told the Iranian daily newspaper Shargh. The reformist daily said Ramirez declined to elaborate on the deal.
During a visit to Iran this week, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez called the two nations “strategic partners.” Ramirez accompanied Chavez on the visit.
Last week, the Iranian government began rationing fuel, causing angry Iranians to smash shop windows and set fire to dozens of gas stations in the capital Tehran and several other cities.
The government says the fuel rationing will free up funding for development projects and make the country “invincible.”
Iran is one of the world’s biggest oil producers, but it doesn’t have enough refineries, so it must import more than 50 percent of the gasoline its people use.
The rationing is part of a government attempt to reduce about $10 billion it spends each year to import fuel that is then sold to Iranian drivers at far less than its cost, to keep prices low.
An increase in gas prices last month and the rationing have fueled Iranian discontent with hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was elected in 2005 on a platform of helping the poor and bringing oil revenues to every family. His failure to do so has sparked widespread criticism.
Iranians are accustomed to gasoline at rock bottom prices. After a 25 percent hike in prices was imposed May 21, gas sells at the equivalent of 38 cents a gallon.