x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Iran's influence waning in Latin America, US State Department says

Iran is not actively supporting terrorist cells in Latin America and its influence is waning in the region after almost a decade of promises to increase investment, according to a US State Department report.

RIO DE JANEIRO // Iran is not actively supporting terrorist cells in Latin America and its influence is waning in the region after almost a decade of promises to increase investment, according to a US State Department report.

While Iran's interest in Latin America is a "concern", sanctions have undermined its efforts to expand its economic and political toehold in the region, the State Department said.

"As a result of diplomatic outreach, strengthening of allies' capacity, international nonproliferation efforts, a strong sanctions policy, and Iran's poor management of its foreign relations, Iranian influence in Latin America and the Caribbean is waning."

The findings disappointed some US Republican legislators who say Barack Obama's administration is underestimating the threat from Iran. The report comes as the US takes a wait-and-see approach to Hassan Rouhani, Iran's president-elect who has vowed to seek more dialog with the US.

The US stepped up its monitoring of Iran's presence in Latin America in a bid to isolate the country over its nuclear programme and after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran's president whose term ends in August, forged closer ties with anti-American allies of the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. While Iran's outreach bears watching, claims about more sinister activities are unproven, said Christopher Sabatini, senior policy director at the Council of the Americas.

Mr Ahmadinejad made repeated trips to Latin America after taking office in 2005, most recently to Caracas to attend Chavez's funeral in March and the inauguration of his successor, Nicolas Maduro, a month later.

By contrast, Mr Rouhani has said little about the region. Instead, he said one of his main foreign policy priorities will be seeking "constructive dialog" with the US and UK, two nations with which the country has traditionally been at odds.