A month after drifting in the southern waters of the Atlantic Ocean, two identified Iranian warships docked into Rio de Janeiro on Sunday as Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva gave the green light despite receiving pressure from the United States not to.

According to USNI News, the two vessels—forward base ship IRIS Makran and frigate IRIS Dena—were deployed to make a port visit in late January. However, this was pushed back when the newly-elected Brazilian President bowed to US pressure and declined Iran’s request to dock in Rio.

It is noteworthy here, though, that the Lula was scheduled to meet his US counterpart, Joe Biden, in Washington when he denied the Iranian ships off the Brazilian port.

Perhaps this was a gesture to avoid awkwardness for the duration of his journey. Because as soon as he came back, he gave the green light to dock the warships via Vice Admiral Carlos Eduardo Horta Arentz, the deputy chief of Brazil’s Naval Staff.

From February 26 to March 4, the Iranian surface group is permitted to moor in Rio.

Brazil and Iran’s Long-Standing Trading Relationship

Iran previously maintained a productive trading relationship with Brazil for years but faced a decline since former Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff took office in 2011.

Rousseff openly criticized Iran for its human and civil rights violations, which stirred up most of the Brazilian population and expressed unfavorable views of the troubled state. The relationship further dropped during the presidential era of Jair Bolsonaro in 2018, who showed strong sympathy toward Israel—Iran’s nemesis.

Now that Lula is back in charge, this strained relationship may be mended, like what he did when he first took office in 2003. Aside from good trading, keeping a relationship with Iran meant reestablishing Brazil’s influence in the Middle East—an ambitious goal the newly-elected President initially expressed during his first term.

Iranian Warships Despite US Sanctions

Soon after the two Iranian ships were spotted near the waters of Latin America, the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control released a statement declaring Makran and Dena as Iranian property for sanctions, USNI News reported.

The sanction is related to the US effort to halt Iran to further progress in its lethal unmanned drone industry, which the latter has been uncovered to be selling it out to Russia.

Iranian entities continue to produce UAVs for Iran’s IRGC and military. More broadly, Iran is supplying UAVs for Russia’s combat operations to target critical infrastructure in Ukraine,” said Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian Nelson via a press release on February 3. “The United States will continue to aggressively target all elements of Iran’s UAV program.”

Nelson noted in the statement how the alleged Iranian surface group could potentially launch lethal drones.

Since September 2022, the United States has issued five rounds of designations of individuals and entities involved in the production and transfer of Iranian UAVs, some of which have been used by Moscow in attacks on civilians,” the statement read.

Not In Our Backyard

Following Brazil’s decision, US Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) issued a strong statement regarding the outrageous decision to allow Iranian ships within the waters of the Western Hemisphere.

The docking of Iranian warships in Brazil is a dangerous development and a direct threat to the safety and security of Americans. The United States has sanctions and antiterrorism laws designed exactly to deter and respond to these threats,” Cruz stated.

He continued: “These Iranian warships are already sanctioned, and so the port in Rio de Janeiro where they docked is now at risk of crippling sanctions, as are any Brazilian companies that provided them services or accepted payments – and so are all foreign companies that entangle themselves with the port or those Brazilian companies in the future. President Biden calls Brazilian President da Silva his friend and said he was honored to host him at the White House, and da Silva himself is a Chavista aligned against the United States and our interests, so either these risks were not conveyed or the Brazilians did not care. Nevertheless, our antiterrorism laws are designed to protect Americans and are not optional.”

“The Biden administration is obligated to impose relevant sanctions, reevaluate Brazil’s cooperation with US antiterrorism efforts, and reexamine whether Brazil is maintaining effective antiterrorism measures at its ports. If the administration does not, Congress should force them to do so.”

Many other American officials have condemned the port visit, including Ambassador to Brazil Elizabeth Bagley, who stressed via a press conference on February 15 that these ships should not dock anywhere.

In the past, those ships facilitated illegal trade and terrorist activities, and have also been sanctioned by the United States. Brazil is a sovereign nation, but we firmly believe those ships should not dock anywhere,” Bagley said.

The Iranian surface group had made a port call in Indonesia before heading to Rio. The reason these ships were making these visits remain unclear.