Iran's gambit in Latin America

Venezuelan Presidency Office

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez greets his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the Miraflores Palace in the city of Caracas, capital of Venezuela, on Jan. 9, 2012.

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  • Iran makes no secret of its determination to carry its asymmetrical warfare to the Western Hemisphere @RogerNoriegaUSA

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  • The US must find its way toward adopting new forward-leaning policies that will frustrate Iran's plans to threaten the US closer to come

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  • It is clear that Iran intends to use safe havens in Latin America to deploy activities that threaten the US

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In early January, Iran caught the world’s attention by threatening to close the Strait of Hormuz and brandish shore-to-sea cruise missiles in what was to be a 10-day naval exercise. That same week Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced a five-nation trip through Latin America to advance his country’s influence and operational capabilities on the doorstep of the United States. It would take a very generous view of the Islamic Republic to dismiss these simultaneous events as mere coincidence. Tehran makes no secret of its determination to carry its asymmetrical warfare to the Western Hemisphere. Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi was in Bolivia in May 2011 when he promised a “tough and crushing response” to any U.S. offensive against Iran. Such provocations are part of what should be understood as Iran’s five-year push into the Americas. 

The Obama administration and career U.S. diplomats have been slow to recognize the threat posed by this creeping advance. Only after several Republican presidential candidates highlighted the problem in a debate on November 22 sponsored in part by the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., did President Obama say, “[W]e take Iranian activities, including in Venezuela, very seriously, and we will continue to monitor them closely.” Unfortunately, merely monitoring Iran’s foray into Latin America is not enough. The United States must find its way toward adopting new forward-leaning policies that will frustrate Tehran’s plans to threaten U.S. security and interests close to home.

In the last five years, Iran has begun to take full advantage of Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chávez’s unprecedented hospitality in the Americas. Chávez’s petro-diplomacy has enabled Ahmadinejad to cultivate partnerships with anti-U.S. regimes in Cuba, Ecuador, and Bolivia as well. Today, a shadowy network of commercial and industrial enterprises in several countries affords Iran a physical presence in proximity to the borders of its greatest foe. It is increasingly clear that Iran intends to use safe havens in these countries to deploy conventional and unconventional weaponry that pose a direct threat to U.S. territory, strategic waterways, and American allies.

Read the full article on CommentaryMagazine.com

Roger F. Noriega was Ambassador to the Organization of American States from 2001-03 and Assistant Secretary of State from 2003-05. He is a visiting fellow at the  American Enterprise Institute and managing director of Vision Americas LLC, which represents U.S. and foreign clients.

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