What's Ahmadinejad getting out of his Latin America tour?

3. It may not pay off

Part of the concern about Iran’s intentions comes from the fact that many of the deals signed in recent years are shrouded in secrecy. A Venezuela visit by Iran’s defense minister in 2010 ended in a deal between the two militaries, but no details were made public.

But those who study the relationship between the two countries say that many of the promised and rumored projects – from homes to hospitals to a mega embassy in Nicaragua – have gone nowhere. “Iran has promised a lot, but delivered very little,” says Javedanfar. 

And while trade has increased between Iran and Latin America, tripling from 2008 to 2009, Johnson points out that it still only a tiny fraction of Iran’s overall trade. Many question what Iran is getting out of the commercial deals in Latin America, apart from more support for its nuclear program and perhaps a boost at home for Ahmadinejad, because its allies are mostly poorer countries. 

“It’s a very poor commercial fit because outside of Venezuela, these countries are very needy,” says Johnson. “They can’t give very much back.” 

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