US foes unite: Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega cozies up to Iran's Ahmadinejad
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran will be the guest of honor at the inauguration of Nicaragua's newly-reelected president, Daniel Ortega.
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US diplomats also scratch their heads as to why Ortega would risk relations with the US – Nicaragua’s most important partner for trade and tourism – in exchange for moral support from Ahmadinejad and some of the world’s loonier regimes.Skip to next paragraph
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“I think what [Ortega] says is a largely hormonal reaction to events refracted through a cold-war and 1950s’ Marxist-Leninist prism,” says former US Ambassador Robert Callahan, whose old post in Managua has remained vacated since last July. “With the exception of his sycophancy toward Chávez, none of his public statements and the resultant foreign policies, if they can be called that, benefits Nicaragua.”
Even Chávez a 'maybe'
Ortega’s erratic foreign policy and doubts about his counter-constitutional reelection last November explains why only a handful of foreign governments have congratulated him on winning a third term in office. Even fewer will be attending his inauguration on Tuesday. As of the weekend, only the presidents of Honduras, Panama, Guatemala, Venezuela, and Iran had confirmed their attendance, along with Spain’s Prince Felipe of Asturias. Ortega's other political allies – Cuba's Raul Castro, Bolivia's Evo Morales, and Ecuador's Rafael Correra – didn't even bother to R.S.V.P.
The deficient diplomatic roll call will mean more spotlight for Ahmadinejad, providing a “I-told-you-so” moment for Republican lawmakers to reaffirm fears of Iran’s growing presence in their “backyard.”
“In Washington’s view, the Iran issue is deadly serious,” says Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue. “Venezuela is seen as an irritant and problem for the US, but Iran is a different story – it is deemed a major threat, possibly the most urgent question today on the US foreign policy agenda.”
What appears to be Ortega’s finest hour for political and economic power in Nicaragua could quickly turn into a foreign policy disaster for his administration.
Says Shifter: “In light of the Iran connection, the US could adopt an even more hardline stance towards Nicaragua – If only to send a broader message to the region that, when it comes to Iran, the Obama administration is prepared to draw the line and get tough.”