Right Web

Tracking militarists’ efforts to influence U.S. foreign policy

Iran’s Relations with Latin America Less Than Meets the Eye

Inter Press Service

Its economy hurting from sanctions imposed by the United States and Europe, the Islamic Republic of Iran has been making a show of bolstering its ties to Latin America, with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in January making his sixth official visit to the region since taking office in 2005.

Contrary to assertions made by the regime and many U.S. policymakers, however, analysts say the trip is more about Iran seeking to maintain an appearance of diplomatic strength than meaningfully strengthening economic – much less military – relations.

According to Iranian state news, the "promotion of all-out cooperation with Latin American countries" is one of the Islamic Republic's "top priorities". As part of his five-day tour of the region that began Jan. 7, Ahmadinejad made stops in Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba and Ecuador, all countries ruled by governments that have rocky relations with the United States.

But while big on anti-imperialist rhetoric, Adam Isacson of the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) said the trip was short on substance.

"A lot of it was photo-ops and trying to show to the Iranian public, but also to the world, that Iran is not an isolated regime," Isacson told IPS.

And he pointed out that while Iran's economic ties with Venezuela's are indeed substantial, with trade between the two nations topping three billion dollars annually, there is no evidence of any sort of joint military operations that might threaten the United States. And whereas the Iranian president visited Brazil two years ago, this time around he did not stop over at any of the economic powerhouses in South America, which points to waning diplomatic relations, not strengthening ones.

Yet right-wing and liberal hawks in Washington have spoken of the trip and Iran's relations with Latin America in terms often reminiscent of the Cold War and its with-us-or-against-us mentality.

Robert Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey who chairs the Senate subcommittee on the Western hemisphere, called it "alarming" that any country would host Ahmadinejad. In a statement, he said it showed "these nations place a higher value on colluding with an international pariah than in working with the world to address Iran's support for terrorism, including acts of terror perpetrated in Latin America, as well as its nuclear weapons ambitions."

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican who chairs the House Foreign Relations Committee, has been even more alarmist, describing Ahmadinejad's trip to Cuba – where he received an honourary degree in political science and met with former President Fidel Castro – as indicative of an emerging threat against the United States.

"Both Iran and Cuba have clear intentions of harming the U.S.," said Ros-Lehtinen in a press release. "(B)oth support extremist groups dedicated to bringing destruction to our nation or destabilizing our allies," and they "work together on biotechnology research that could have weapons applications."

Connie Mack, another Florida Republican who chairs the House subcommittee, for his part took aim at Venezuela, saying its president Hugo Chávez was helping Iran flout international sanctions "while welcoming the building of Iranian missiles sites in Venezuela".

"A visit from Ahmadinejad is just the beginning of what could be a nightmare for the U.S.," said Mack, noting a recent report that Iranian and Venezuelan diplomats stationed in Mexico had discussed the possibility of launching cyber-attacks against the U.S. government.

But while big on bluster, statements on Iran and its ties to Latin America from hawks in Washington have long been short on fact. In 2010, for instance, Roger Noriega, a former State Department official under the George W. Bush administration and now with the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute, alleged that Venezuela was not just aiding Iran's nuclear programme, but receiving help from the Islamic Republic to build an atomic weapon of its own – a claim mocked by U.S. diplomats.

Sometimes the claims are contradictory. Testifying before Congress last year, Noriega claimed Iran had "at least two parallel terrorist networks" operating in Latin America engaged in everything from "narcotics smuggling" to providing "weapons and explosives training to drug trafficking organisations that operate along the U.S. border with Mexico".

Months later, Noriega cited alleged Iranian involvement in a plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. as bolstering those claims – despite the fact that, if true, the plot would undermine those claims, showing that Iran's ties to Latin America are so weak that it would have to reach out to a failed used car salesman in order to contact the very drug trafficking organisations to which it was purportedly already providing training in terrorist tactics.

Likewise, despite allegations from Ros-Lehtinen and others that countries such as Venezuela and Ecuador are colluding with Iran and helping supply it with uranium for its nuclear programme, Michael Shifter of the Washington-based Inter-American Dialogue noted in a recent piece that the U.S. government has no evidence to support that, "despite what are presumably serious efforts to gather intelligence by U.S. intelligence agencies."

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) also continues to verify the non-diversion of radioactive material from Iran's nuclear energy programme.

The U.S. government has also dismissed allegations Iran has stationed missiles in Venezuela as being without foundation.

"They're just way out ahead of what the intelligence community and even U.S. Southern Command are saying," WOLA's Isacson told IPS about the claims about Iran's allegedly nefarious doings in Latin America. "We're not seeing significant military cooperation with Iran."

Rather, the U.S. is "seeing investment projects, they're seeing obviously these shows of political support – they don't like those – but if they actually were seeing the things (lawmakers) are alleging… I think you'd be seeing far more than just Ileana Ros-Lehtinen or Connie Mack saying aggressive words."

In reality, Iran's relations with Latin America, not unlike U.S. politicians' rhetoric, is about little more than aggressive words – not that there have not been plenty of them uttered by Ahmadinejad and his counterparts.

Venezuela's Chávez was characteristically boisterous, calling Ahmadinejad his "real brother" and calling it "a danger to the world – these pretensions of the Yankee Empire to control the globe."

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, elected last fall to a legally controversial third term, similarly defended Iran during Ahmadinejad's visit, echoing the Iranian state's contention that it is Israel – not the Islamic Republic – that needs to dismantle its nuclear programme.

But beyond a shared dislike for the U.S. and Israel – and a shared anti-U.S. revolutionary history – there is not much more to the Iranian-Nicaraguan relationship, not unlike the Iranian relationship to the region as a whole. As the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, however, Nicaragua is not in a position to turn down many offers of aid, no matter how long it may take them to materialise.

At the same time, with the U.S. and Europe increasingly trying to isolate it, the Islamic Republic is in no position to display its diplomatic strength, insofar as it has it, no matter how small or poor the host nation.

But in contrast to assertions from U.S. policymakers about a Persian menace in their backyard, Iran's close relations with almost exclusively small, poor nations are more indicative of weak and superficial ties to Latin America than a strong – much less threatening – relationship.

Charles Davis is a contributor to Inter Press Service.

Share RightWeb

Featured Profiles

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), one of the more effective U.S. lobbying outfits, aims to ensure that the United States backs Israel regardless of the policies Israel pursues.


Erik Prince, former CEO of the mercenary group Blackwater, continues to sell security services around the world as controversies over his work—including in China and the Middle East, and his alleged involvement in collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia—grow.


Gina Haspel is the first woman to hold the position of director of the CIA, winning her confirmation despite her history of involvement in torture during the Iraq War.


Democratic Majority for Israel (DMFI) is a pressure group founded in early 2019 that serves as a watchdog and enforcer of Israel’s reputation in the Democratic Party.


Richard Grenell is the U.S. ambassador to Germany for the Donald Trump administration, known for his brusque and confrontational style.


Zalmay Khalilzad is Donald Trump’s special representative to the Afghan peace process, having previously served as ambassador to Afghanistan and Iraq under George W. Bush.


Robert Joseph played a key role in manipulating U.S. intelligence to support the invasion of Iraq and today is a lobbyist for the MEK.


For media inquiries,
email rightwebproject@gmail.com

From the Wires

The Senate on Wednesday passed a measure mandating the withdrawal of U.S. forces from the Saudi/UAE-led war against Houthi rebels in Yemen. The vote marks the first time since the War Powers Act of 1973 became law that both chambers of Congress have directed the president to withdraw American forces from a conflict.


The Trump administration’s failed “maximum pressure” approach to Iran and North Korea begs the question what the US president’s true objectives are and what options he is left with should the policy ultimately fail.


In the United States, it’s possible to debate any and every policy, domestic and foreign, except for unquestioning support for Israel. That, apparently, is Ilhan Omar’s chief sin.


While Michael Cohen mesmerized the House of Representatives and President Trump resumed his love affair with North Korea’s Kim Jong, one of the most dangerous state-to-state confrontations, centering in Kashmir, began to spiral out of control.


The Trump administration’s irresponsible withdrawal from the landmark Iran nuclear agreement undermined Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and emboldened hardliners who accused him of having been deceived by Washington while negotiating the agreement. However, the Iranian government could use the shock of Zarif’s resignation to push back against hardliners and take charge of both the domestic and foreign affairs of the country while Iran’s foreign opponents should consider the risks of destabilizing the government under the current critical situation.


Europe can play an important role in rebuilding confidence in the non-proliferation regime in the wake of the demise of the INF treaty, including by making it clear to the Trump administration that it wants the United States to refrain from deploying INF-banned missiles in Europe and to consider a NATO-Russian joint declaration on non-first deployment.


The decline in Israel’s appeal to Democrats is directly related to the wider awareness of the country’s increasingly authoritarian nature, its treatment of Palestinians, and its reluctance to take substantive steps toward peace. Pro-Israel liberals face a fundamental paradox trying to reconcile Israel’s illiberalism with their political values.


RightWeb
share