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jueves, agosto 25, 2016

Iranian envoy shoring up ties on US doorstep

By Roger F. Noriega - IEA.org
@rogernoriegaUSA
On Monday, Iran’s Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, began a tour of Latin America with the stated objective of strengthening economic ties — in agriculture, petroleum, petrochemicals, mining, medicine, and engineering. His trip includes stops in Cuba, Chile, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Ecuador, and Venezuela.

It is not surprising that Zarif will visit regimes that aid, abet, or engage in criminality and that share Iran’s anti-American sentiment. Chile is out of place among the rogue regimes that the Iranian envoy will visit. However, since President Michelle Bachelet returned to power in 2014, Iran’s ties with that country have never been better. In 2015, after 37 years without an embassy, Bachelet’s administration reopened its diplomatic mission in Tehran, reversing the previous administration’s position of strict enforcement of sanctions against Iran. For its part, Iran has shown particular interest in Chile’s banking, mining, and energy sectors.

Zarif is taking advantage of momentum generated by the nuclear deal brokered by the United States to end Iran’s economic and diplomatic isolation.

After decades in which many countries in Latin America opened their doors to Iran as part of Hugo Chávez’s anti-US project, recent political changes in Argentina, Brazil, and Peru as well as instability in Venezuela have posed a challenge to Tehran’s interests in the region. Zarif is taking advantage of momentum generated by the nuclear deal brokered by the United States to end Iran’s economic and diplomatic isolation. With the nuclear accord in hand, Tehran is no longer constrained in flaunting the relations it has cultivated in the United States’ neighborhood.

Of course, the apparent role of Iranian agents and Hezbollah in the 1992 bombing of the Israeli embassy and the 1994 bombing of the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) building in Buenos Aires cannot be forgotten. Under Chávez and his successor Nicolás Maduro, Iran has been able to launder billions of dollars through Venezuela’s financial sector and state-owned entities, thereby evading international sanctions. Hezbollah operatives are already in Venezuelan territory and are involved in narco-trafficking and other activities.

With Venezuela in economic and political turmoil, it is very likely that Iran will look for an opportunity to maintain its influence and networks there or to deepen their ties to other countries if the Maduro regime succumbs to widespread opposition.

Since 2011, I have been publicly denouncing Iran’s activities in the Western Hemisphere and urging US authorities to recognize and respond to the threat posed by its economic and operational reach into our neighborhood. Zarif’s visit to the region is fresh reminder of how that state sponsor of terrorism will continue to court countries where it sees fertile ground to carry its asymmetric threat to our doorstep.

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posted by Aserne Venezuela @ 3:01 p.m. 

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