Chávez awaits Iran's Ahmadinejad after warm Brazil visit
The strong ties between President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran and his Venezuelan counterpart Hugo Chávez are well known. But Brazil's support has set this regional tour apart.
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The trip comes as Iran has deepened its presence in Latin America, particularly among presidents such as Chávez take similar anti-US stances. "He's enjoyed some success in making links in the continent, and he'd like to extend that," says Bruce Buchanan, an expert on US and Iranian relations at the University of Texas at Austin.
Most analysts say that the US, while frustrated, has little to fear from a trip that was most likely a relief from pressures both abroad and at home.
"He loves the spotlight, and he loves the limelight," says Gary Sick, an Iran expert at Columbia University in New York. "Iran is in no position to build a strategic beachhead in Latin America that would somehow threaten the US, certainly not in the next four years," when Ahmadinejad's term is over.
Chávez-Ahmadinejad ties raise concerns
Still, his visit in Brazil, the first by an Iranian leader since 1965, lent him a degree of legitimacy he had not yet found in Latin America. Brazil has sought to become a major player on the diplomatic scene to match its growing economic clout. The visit was criticized by New York Congressman Eliot Engel, who called da Silva's welcome a "a serious error."
US leaders are not the only ones who are concerned though; other leaders in the region have also voiced their skepticism, especially the budding relationship between Chávez and Ahmadinejad.
Jamsheed Choksy, professor of Iranian and international studies at Indiana University, says that the Latin America tour is part of a larger effort by Ahmadinejad to woo friends around the world. But "Latin America immediately makes the US look very cautiously," he says. "The question that arises here is whether these diplomatic contacts are simply diplomatic or whether they could lead to nuclear proliferation."
• Matt Clark contributed from Peru.