- Associated Press - Monday, April 8, 2019

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) - Iran’s second largest airline has begun direct flights to Venezuela, as the two countries cultivate closer ties in the face of U.S. sanctions.

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

The United States blacklisted Mahan in 2011 after accusing it of providing support to the Quds Force, an elite unit of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. The carrier recently halted flights to Germany and France due to U.S. sanctions over its alleged military transport flights to Syria, where Iran supports President Bashar Assad’s forces.

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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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