Ahmadinejad and Chavez 311.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
WASHINGTON – Iran is cultivating relationships beyond Venezuela to make sure its
toehold in Latin America stays secure, should Hugo Chavez lose his battle with
cancer, a former US State Department official warned
“Certainly the Iranians are happy with the platform they have
so close to US borders. They’d love to hang on to Venezuela, but if that isn’t
convenient for whatever government that succeeds Chavez, they’ll have look
elsewhere,” said Roger Noriega on a conference call sponsored by The Israel
Noriega pointed to the countries Iranian President Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad visited in addition to Venezuela on his recent Latin American tour –
Ecuador, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Cuba – as places Iran is looking to develop
Noriega, who served in the George W. Bush administration, will
testify before the Senate on Iran and Latin America Thursday. He is expected to
highlight Ecuador as a country of particular interest for Iran.
noted that Ecuador possesses both uranium deposits and an economy that uses US
dollars as its local currency, which gives Iran access to American cash, which
he has otherwise largely been cut off from.
“The Iranians have
established good working relationships with Ecuador [and] cooperation between
the central banks on how to interact in accessing international financial
institutions, and that’s very dangerous because Ecuador is a dollarized
economy,” he cautioned.
Noriega also described Ecuadorian President
Rafael Correa as “just erratic enough to try to have some sort of provocative
relationship with Iran.”
Noriega, who now works at the Washington-based
American Enterprise Institute, but maintains a network of contacts in the
region, said the information he’s seen concerning Chavez’s health suggests he
might not even make it until the presidential elections slated for October
Through the relationship that Ahmadinejad has built with Chavez,
Noriega charged, Iran has made headway in its efforts to launch an asymmetrical
struggle against US, European and Israeli targets; developing economic
structures there to avoid sanctions; mining for uranium to use in Tehran’s
nuclear program; and helping Hezbollah use the territory to conduct training and
Chavez’s successor, however, might be more interested in
consolidating his power than provoking the United States by continuing this
policy, Noriega reasoned.
“You might even see one of these folks try to
hold onto power by throwing Iran out and trying to reassure the United States
and its neighbors that they’re going to try to govern more responsibly than
Chavez has,” he speculated.
On the other hand, Noriega acknowledged, a
successor might see the same benefits in the relationship that Chavez
“He might consider Iran an important ally in terms of some of the
tactical and other advantages they can acquire from Iran,” he said. “It’s very
murky what happens there and it’s something that I think we have to pay a lot
closer attention to than we are today.”