Ahmadinejad's Latin America trip kicks sand in US eyes, but is it threatening?
Iran's President Ahmadinejad begins a tour of anti-American capitals in Latin America in Caracas, Venezuela, Sunday. The trip seeks to counter perceptions of Iran's isolation over its nuclear program.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad arrives in America’s backyard Sunday for a five-country trip designed to counter perceptions of Iran’s growing international isolation over its nuclear program.Skip to next paragraph
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The burr under America’s saddle will begin his Western Hemisphere visit in Caracas, Venezuela, where the open arms of the leftist-populist President Hugo Chávez will set the tone for a trip that will take in other Latin anti-American capitals, including Managua, Nicaragua, Quito, Ecuador, and Havana, Cuba.
Also on the trip itinerary is Guatemala, where the Iranian leader will attend the inauguration of President-elect Otto Perez.
Mr. Ahmadinejad’s trip, his second to Latin America since 2009, comes amid rising tensions between Iran and Western powers intent on curtailing a nuclear program that much of the international community says shows every sign of aiming for nuclear weapons development. Iran claims the program is for strictly civilian purposes.
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The Iranian leader, known for his provocative rants at the United Nations’ annual opening session in New York, appears to be relishing a trip that is being interpreted as an affront to the United States – especially as it comes just as Iran is making a show of warning the US to stay out of its own backyard in the Persian Gulf.
In a high-stakes tit-for-tat that some international analysts blamed for a spike in oil prices last week, the US pointedly responded that it will maintain its presence in the Gulf and in particular will continue to ply the Strait of Hormuz, a narrow sea lane through which passes about one-fifth of the world’s oil.
The Ahmadinejad visit also places a spotlight on how Iran’s aspirations in Latin America have come to figure in American trade policy and politics.
In the run-up to Ahmadinejad’s trip, Iranian officials touted the rising importance of Latin America to Iran. “The promotion of all-out cooperation with Latin American countries is among the top priorities of the Islamic republic’s foreign policy,” said the official IRIB News Agency last week.
Such talk irks the Obama administration, which has its eyes set on Latin America as President Obama pursues his 2010 goal of doubling US exports by 2015. The administration ushered free-trade agreements with Colombia and Panama through Congress last year, and Mr. Obama would like to announce their implementation by the time he attends a Summit of the Americas in Colombia in April.
The administration was largely quiet about Ahmadinejad’s last trip to Latin America (a trip that included powerhouse Brazil) in 2009, but that’s not so true this time around, reflecting the rising tensions between the two countries.
In a recent interview with El Universal newspaper in Caracas, Obama said the Venezuelan government’s “ties with Iran and Cuba have not benefited the interests of Venezuela and its people.”