Iran seeks to expand its ties with Latin America in what U.S. officials and regional experts say is an effort to evade economic sanctions, a report carried by the Washington Post on Monday said.
A multi-leg tour by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in South and Central America aims mainly, according to the newspaper report, at increasing Tehran’s economic, political and military influence in the United States’ back yard.
The tour is expected to include Venezuela, Ecuador, Cuba and Nicaragua.
Iran has recently vowed to invest millions of dollars in economic development projects for the region, from a mining joint venture in Ecuador to factories for petrochemicals and small-arms ammunition in Venezuela.
“All-out cooperation with Latin American countries is among the top priorities of the Islamic Republic’s foreign policy,” Iran’s state-owned Press TV reported last week, in reference to Ahmadinejad’s visit.
The Washington Post report referred to Ahmadinejad’s live interview on Dec. 13 with Venezuela’s state-owned broadcaster TeleSUR, in which he hailed the close ties between the two countries and boasted of Iran’s advances in military technology, including unmanned drones. Ahmadinejad gave a strong warning during the interview saying: “no one dares to attack Iran.”
Iran’s closest ally in the region, Venezuela, had its largest petroleum company hit with U.S. sanctions last year over its ties with Iran. Smaller countries such as Nicaragua and Bolivia have seen little of the millions of dollars in aid promised by Iranian officials over the past decade.
“Iran has been actively working for years to expand its ties and influence in the Western Hemisphere, and it has found willing partners in the region’s anti-American despots,” said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, was quoted as saying by the Washington Post.
Ros-Lehtinen described Ahmadinejad’s Latin American tour as the “tour of tyrants.” “The Iranian threat closer to our shores,” she was quoted as saying by the Washington Post.