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US expels Venezuelan diplomat as Ahmadinejad makes Latin America tour

Venezuela's consul general to Miami was expelled today amid accusations that she assisted with a cyberattack – coordinated by Iran, Cuba, and Venezuela – against the US. 

By Correspondent / January 9, 2012

Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (l.) and Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez hold hands after the Iranian leader's arrival to Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas, Venezuela, Monday. Venezuela is the first leg of a four-nation tour that will also take Ahmadinejad to Nicaragua, Cuba and Ecuador.

Ariana Cubillos/AP

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The Obama administration asked a Venezuelan diplomat based in Miami to leave the United States by Jan. 10, potentially straining US-Venezuelan relations further as Iran and Venezuela grow closer. 

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The expulsion corresponds with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit to Venezuela yesterday, the first stop on his four-country Latin America tour. Some fear Iran is using the region as a staging ground to attack US interests, an issue that’s especially salient given recent Western anxiety about Iran’s nuclear goals.

In December, a Univision documentary called “The Iranian Threat”  linked Livia Acosta Noguera, the Venezuelan Consul General to Miami since March 2011, to a potential cyberattack coordinated by Iran, Cuba, and Venezuela against the US. 

There is no indication that American officials have been able to verify Univision's allegations, reports The New York Times. Some analysts say the expulsion had less to do with the merits of the accusation than a desire by the Obama Administration to defuse Republican pressure over Iran during an election year.

“This [expulsion] has to be viewed in the wider context,” says Michael Shifter, president of Inter-American Dialogue. “The tensions are escalating with Iran and the US, so Venezuela becomes a greater concern.... [And] the Obama Administration doesn’t want to be vulnerable as soft on Iran and Latin America.”

Last month four US representatives wrote a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton drawing attention to the documentary's accusations.

“According to the documentary, when she served as the vice secretary at the Venezuelan embassy in Mexico in 2008, she interacted with members from the Iranian and Cuban embassies and students posing as extremists from the Universidad Autónoma of Mexico to coordinate a cyber attack against the U.S. government and critical infrastructure systems at the White House, FBI and CIA,” reads the letter, which was posted on Florida Rep. David Rivera’s (R) website and signed by New Jersey Rep. Albio Sires (D) and Florida Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R) and Mario Diaz-Balart (R). 

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