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Iran Seeks Lifeline in Latin America

An increasingly desperate regime hunts for friends. (Click here for a Spanish translation of this article.)

by
Jaime Daremblum

Bio

January 12, 2012 - 6:35 am
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News of the assassination plot, which first broke in October, was a rude wake-up call about the danger posed by Iran’s growing hemispheric presence. The Iranians have a history of carrying out deadly terrorist massacres in Latin America — most notably, the 1992 and 1994 Buenos Aires bombings — and former Peruvian military chief of staff Gen. Francisco Contreras has said that Iranian organizations are now aiding other terror groups in South America. By expanding its terrorist presence in the Western Hemisphere, Iran is laying the groundwork for future attacks on U.S. and Israeli interests.

Given the regime’s bloodstained history, it would be foolish to dismiss this threat as “exaggerated.” According to Tehran-based Press TV, an Iranian state-run media outlet:

The promotion of all-out cooperation with Latin American countries is among the top priorities of the Islamic Republic’s foreign policy.

Beyond its outreach to Venezuela and other ALBA members, Iran has also dramatically boosted its trade relations with Argentina and Brazil. Indeed, the Argentine government is apparently so desperate for greater economic cooperation with Iran that it has secretly offered to suspend investigations of the Buenos Aires bombings in return for closer bilateral trade ties.

Brazil is a more complicated story. Under Lula da Silva, who served as Brazilian president from January 2003 to January 2011, the South American giant warmed to Iran and (along with Turkey) helped broker a controversial nuclear-fuel agreement that undermined U.S. diplomatic efforts at the United Nations. Last August, Brazilian Deputy Foreign Minister Maria Edileuza Fontenele described Iran as one of her country’s “most important partners.” Lately however, Lula’s successor President Dilma Rousseff has adopted a cooler, more cautious approach to the Iranians. It is telling that Ahmadinejad’s Latin American itinerary did not include a stop in Brasília.

Much like its Syrian ally, Iran becomes more and more of a global pariah every day. Outside of Venezuela, it has hardly any true allies. The Islamic Republic clearly views Latin America as a region that can provide an economic lifeline amid global sanctions and also enhance its perceived diplomatic legitimacy. If the radical, anti-American regimes in Venezuela, Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, and Nicaragua want to help the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, that’s one thing. But no respectable Latin American democracy should join them.

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Jaime Daremblum, who served as Costa Rica’s ambassador to the United States from 1998 to 2004, is director of the Center for Latin American Studies at the Hudson Institute.
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