Iran Seeking to Expand Influence in Latin America

(Washington Post) Joby Warrick - Iran is quietly seeking to expand its ties with Latin America in what U.S. officials and regional experts say is an effort to circumvent economic sanctions and gain access to much-needed markets and raw materials. The new diplomatic offensive includes a swing through Venezuela, Ecuador, Cuba and Nicaragua this month by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Iran has also dramatically expanded its diplomatic missions throughout the hemisphere and dispatched members of its elite Quds Force to serve in its embassies. Former U.S. intelligence officials say the presence of Quds Force officers in diplomatic missions enhances Iran's ability to carry out covert activities, sometimes in conjunction with members of Hizbullah, that operates extensive networks in Latin America and maintains ties with drug cartels. 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. Nicaragua and Bolivia have seen little of the millions of dollars in aid promised by Iranian officials over the past decade. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said she was disturbed by Ahmadinejad's plans for what she called a "tour of tyrants," saying it would bring "the Iranian threat closer to our shores."

2012-01-02 00:00:00

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