October 1, 2007

Exploring Iran's Intent in Latin America: A Theory

With Ahmadinejad's visit to Bolivia last week, Iran began to exploit a foothold it gained in Latin America. This foothold was provided largely by Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, who sees in Iran not only a comrade in his quixotic crusade against the United States, but also a source of inspiration in matters of defiance and defense.

For Iran, Venezuela's adoration is not reciprocal. It's my sense that Iran's interests in Latin America have more to do with not being isolated than with any bilateral relation it may have in the region. This means that its relations with Venezuela or Bolivia or any other country in the region are not as important as simply having those close relations.

This is a time when Iran is facing increasing international pressure over it's covert nuclear weapons program. Its long-time friends in the UN Security Council, Russia and China, have already expressed their displeasure with Iran. Indeed, Russia has even withheld cooperation on a previously-signed nuclear agreement (one that initially had nothing to do with the current nuclear standoff). France, a country that resisted resisting Iran, has now become, with the election of Nicolas Sarkozy, a friend of the US position and one of the more vociferous countries in the anti-Iran coalition-of-the-willing. And while US operations in Afghanistan and Iran have unfettered Iran geopolitically, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt are now more attuned than ever to a perceived threat from Tehran. No doubt a perception encouraged by the American sale of $20 billion dollars worth of arms to many of those countries; an attempt to lay the groundwork for a bulwark against potential Iranian temptations, such as the peninsula's oil fields or a Shi'a dominance.

And even in international finance, Iran is feeling the pinch.

With international isolation increasing, Iran is looking to Chavez to deliver like minded countries and help create a coalition-of-the-defiant, as it were. The principle aim for Tehran is to cultivate UN General Assembly votes in opposition to the nuclear nonproliferation interests of the US and its allies. Bolivia is the first stop. Next on Ahmadinejad's geopolitical itinerary is Nicaragua and, possibly, Ecuador. These countries may be a little bit harder to sell as their leaders have demonstrated less reactionary anti-Americanism than Bolivia's Morales, but be certain that Chavez will lean on them heavily

Of course, it's too soon to tell if Iran's strategy will bear fruit. I doubt it, but if nothing else, it will certainly be interesting to watch future developments.

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