Sat Jan 7, 2012 7:22AM GMT
The US has warned Latin American states against a further expansion of diplomatic and business ties with the Islamic Republic of Iran.
“We are making absolutely clear to countries around the world that now is not the time to be deepening ties, not security ties, not economic ties, with Iran,” US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said on Friday.
The US State Department statement comes ahead of Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s planned visits to Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba and Ecuador next week.
Meanwhile, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen stated that the forthcoming Iranian president’s tour of Latin America is proof of Tehran’s expanding interest in the region.
“Ahmadinejad’s desire to strengthen ties with anti-American rulers and expand Iranian influence in the Western Hemisphere directly threatens US security interests,” she said in a statement.
“This is a threat which we cannot ignore,” Ros-Lehtinen noted.
She also pledged the Obama administration to hold hearings on the matter to discuss what Washington is doing to “counter Iranian outreach in the Western Hemisphere.”
This is while Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Friday criticized the United States for deliberately and recklessly raising tensions in the Persian Gulf.
“The Yankees are determined to provoke wars, provoke tensions,” Chavez said on television during a visit to the central state of Portuguesa.
President Ahmadinejad will kick off a four-nation trip to Latin America next week.
During his five-day trip, the Iranian president will discuss “bilateral ties and regional and international issues” with Latin American leaders.
President Ahmadinejad is also scheduled to attend the inauguration ceremony of the recently re-elected Nicaraguan leader Daniel Ortega. Stops in Cuba and Ecuador will round off the tour.
Leaders in all the four Latin American countries have in recent years built up diplomatic and trade ties with Iran, while their relations with the United States have become frosty as their people have been demanding an end to dependence on Washington.