U.S. senators are warning Latin American nations against deepening financial and military ties with Iran, pledging heightened U.S. vigilance of Iranian activities in the Western Hemisphere. The Senate's Foreign Relations Subcommittee took a close look Thursday at Tehran’s dealings with Latin America. Iran’s increasingly isolated regime retains friends in Latin America, most notably Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
U.S. Democratic Senator Robert Menendez had a stern message for the region. “Unfortunately, there are some countries in this hemisphere that, for political or financial gain, have courted Iranian overtures. They proceed at their own risk: the risk of sanctions from the United States, and the risk of abetting a terrorist state,” he said. Republican Senator Marco Rubio echoed that message. “The leaders of these [Latin American] countries are playing with fire,” Rubio said.
Researcher Douglas Farah said Iran's intentions in Latin America are twofold. “To develop the capacity and capability to wreak havoc in Latin America and possibly the U.S. homeland, if the Iranian leadership views this as necessary to the survival of its nuclear program, and to develop and expand the ability to blunt international sanctions that are crippling the regime’s economic life,” Farah said.
Of particular concern: Iran’s quest for raw nuclear materials and what U.S. National Intelligence Director James Clapper recently described as Iran’s increasing willingness to mount attacks on U.S. soil. Former U.S. Ambassador Roger Noriega said, “Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez and Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are conspiring to wage an asymmetrical struggle against U.S. security, and to abet Iran’s illicit nuclear program.”