Ahmadinejad’s Latin America ‘tour of tyrants’
Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad will be visiting Latin America this week for the fifth time since 2007 — as often as U.S. presidents over the same period, and visiting more countries than them. He must have powerful reasons to spend so much time in the region.
Ahmadinejad’s five-day trip to Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba and Ecuador — which U.S. House Foreign Relations Committee chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami, has labeled a “tour of tyrants” — comes at a time of growing international tensions over Iran’s failure to comply with United Nations nuclear non-proliferation agreements.
The United States and the 27-country European Community have announced new economic sanctions on Iran, including a possible European oil embargo, following a November United Nations report that Iran is likely to be developing a nuclear bomb. Iran is threatening to close the Strait of Hormuz, where 35 percent of the world’s oil goes through, if U.S. and European sanctions limit its oil exports.
There are two major theories within the U.S. diplomatic community on Ahmadinejad’s trip:
U.S. foreign policy hard-liners, including most Republican presidential candidates, say Iran’s growing presence in Latin America is a demonstration of power by a terrorist regime.
“The Iranians have a vision of themselves of being a global power, and they feel that they have the momentum,” says Roger Noriega, a Republican foreign policy hawk who headed the U.S. State Department’s Latin American affairs office during the George W. Bush presidency.
“They feel that they blocked the U.S. presence in Iraq, they are angling to undermine the U.S. agreement with Afghanistan, and they want to challenge us in our neighborhood,” he adds.
According to Noriega, Iran is getting help from Venezuela, and perhaps from Ecuador, to mine uranium for its nuclear program. In addition, Iran is building a network of local operatives in Latin America to strike back at U.S. and Israeli targets in the region should there be a military attack against Iran’s nuclear facilities, Noriega says.
The United States says Iran is the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism, providing weapons to several terrorist groups and actively promoting suicide bombings in the Middle East. Argentina has also accused Iran of carrying out bloody bombings against the Israeli Embassy and a Jewish community center in 1992 and 1994.
U.S. foreign policy moderates, on the other hand, side with the State Department’s view that Ahmadinejad’s visit to Latin America may be a sign of weakness.