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Cablegate: Caracas-Tehran Flight: Building a Bolivarian

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R 081542Z MAR 07
FM AMEMBASSY CARACAS
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TREASURY FOR KLINGENSMITH AND NGRANT
COMMERCE FOR 4431/MAC/WH/MCAMERON
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ENERGY FOR CDAY, DPUMPHERY, AND ALOCKWOOD

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL EAIR VE
SUBJECT: CARACAS-TEHRAN FLIGHT: BUILDING A BOLIVARIAN
BRIDGE IN THE SKY

REF: CARACAS 91

1. (SBU) Summary: On March 2, an Iran Air Boeing 747 touched
down in Caracas, carrying 60 passengers on the inaugural
flight of the Caracas-Damascas-Tehran route. Iran Air will
operate this route once a week as a code-share with Conviasa,
the BRV's fledgling state carrier. The inauguration of this
air route is more politically symbolic of the cozy
Chavez-Ahmadinejad strategic alliance than it is economically
significant. BRV and Iranian officials hailed the launch of
this flight as a significant step in "South-South"
cooperation, terming it "damaging" to the United States. End
Summary.

---------------------------------
The Caracas-Damascas-Tehran Route
---------------------------------

2. (SBU) The sixty passengers traveling on the maiden flight
of the Iran Air/Conviasa code-share from Tehran to Caracas
were greeted at Maiquetia airport on March 2 by Minister for
the People's Power for Infrastructure Jose David Cabello and
Minister for the People's Power for Tourism Cecilia Azuaje.
A more elaborate inaugural ceremony was reserved for the
arrival of the return flight on March 5 in Tehran, as the
plane carried a Venezuelan delegation to the Iran-Venezuela
Economic Commission meeting on March 6-7. Minister of
People's Power for Industries and Mines Jose Khan and
Minister of People's Power for Science and Technology Hector
Navarro were among the delegates traveling on the flight.

3. (SBU) The Caracas-Damascas-Tehran route will operate
weekly. It will leave Tehran Friday mornings at 0500 and
arrive in Caracas at 1545 the same day, with a one hour
scheduled stop in Damascas. The flight will return on
Saturdays, leaving Caracas at 1845 and arriving in Tehran at
1845 Sunday evening. Iran Air has operated the first two
flights using Boeing 747-SP aircraft that the company
reportedly plans to retire because of age and difficulty in
obtaining parts. INAC Deputy Director told EconCouns that
Conviasa has leased Airbus A-340 aircraft that will be soon
be ready to fly the route. According to a press release from
the BRV's Ministry of People's Power for Foreign Affairs, the
flight reduces travel time between the two cities from 26 to
16 hours. Despite early claims that the ticket prices would
reflect "solidarity," Conviasa has indicated that the price
of the round-trip tickets will be USD 2400 from Caracas to
Damascas and USD 3400 to Tehran. Econoff attempted to check
fares and itineraries on the Conviasa website
(www.conviasa.aero) but the website has not yet been updated
to indicate either Damascas or Tehran as a destination.

4. (SBU) Conviasa is a small airline, even by Venezuelan
standards. Conviasa was created by the BRV in 2004 as "the
flag carrier of the BRV" and maintains a small fleet of 13
aircraft -- two Dash-7, two Boeing 737-300, two Boeing
737-200, four ATR-42, one Airbus-340, one Boeing 767-300 and
one Cessna Caravan-208. Conviasa has limited domestic
routes, serving a dozen cities, with even more limited
international flights to Grenada, San Vicente and Puerto
Espana. Conviasa's President Fernandez Martinez weakly
attempted to tout the economic benefit of the code-share,
enabling the carrier to offer improved service to its
customers by reducing the flying time to Tehran and by
offering its customers new international routes.

--------------------------------
Political Significance of Flight
--------------------------------

5. (SBU) Both BRV and Iranian officials hailed the inaugural
flight as "historic." An Iranian vice-minister in the
Ministry of Industry and Mines, present at the airport in
Tehran to receive the BRV delegation, reportedly proclaimed
"this is an aerial bridge between Latin America and the
Middle East and for the first time there is a link between
these two regions." He continued in this vein, while
launching barbs at the "North" (read: United States). "This

has great significance for the nations of the south and also
for the north and certainly there are benefits for the south,
as there is damage for the north." Upon his arrival in
Tehran, Minister Khan offered the BRV's perspective, noting
"we are participating in a historic day." Minister Cabello
added "aerial communication between our two peoples is
historic, and will facilitate commercial relations and more
importantly, cultural exchanges and the ideology that unites
us." Speaking from Damascas, BRV Foreign Minister Maduro
alluded to alleged racism against Muslim travelers in the
United States and Europe in the post-September 11 security
environment. "Our brothers of Arab origin now know that to
come to Arab lands they don't need to go through the United
States or Europe, directly South-South: Caracas-Damascas,"
said Maduro.

-----------------------------
Upcoming Bilateral Commission
-----------------------------

6. (SBU) In total, more than 100 delegates from both
countries will participate in bilateral negotiations on a
broad range of issues, including science and technology,
tourism, culture, education, health, and energy and
petroleum. Iran's Ambassador to Venezuela Ahmad Sobhani said
the two countries "would open a new page in bilateral
relations." The Tehran Times reported that the BRV and the
GOI will sign an additional 14 MOUs and 25 agreements on
expansion of industrial, mining, economic, commercial, and
customs cooperation. These agreements are to complement the
11 agreements Chavez and Ahmadinejad signed during the
Iranian President's January 13 visit to Caracas (Reftel).

-------
Comment
-------

7. (SBU) The launching of the Tehran-Damascas-Caracas air
route is best understood as a symbolic manifestation of the
cozy Chavez-Ahmadinejad alliance. Conviasa is a small,
struggling airline that has had a difficult time establishing
itself in its own domestic market. In this regard, it is
hard to see from a business perspective how a code-share with
Iran Air will expand its revenues and operations. The
majority of passengers are likely to be employees of either
Venezuelan or Iranian state entities. While both Iran and
the BRV have touted this flight as a historic milestone, it
is unlikely to have a significant impact on commercial and
cultural ties as long as the ticket price remains
prohibitively expensive and there is only one flight weekly.
The inaugural flight provided a stage for both Iran and
Venezuela to thumb their noses at the United States on the
eve of another round of bilateral MOU negotiations to
strengthen their strategic relationship.

BROWNFIELD

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