While the world is busy with the economic crisis and the uprising in the Middle East, Iran silently continues its penetration into Latin America. Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister, Ali Ahani, recently visited Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay with the goal to further strengthen political and economic relations. The visit of Ahani to Uruguay comes in the aftermath of the Iranian Ambassador's declarations denying the Holocaust -- causing outrage throughout the Jewish communities in Latin America.
Brazilian President follows Lula's steps on Iran
On August 10th, CNN television reported that representatives from Brazil and Iran agreed to enhance relations between the two countries, "a signal that Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff will follow the example of her predecessor and demonstrate Brazil's diplomatic independence by dealing with a nation under scrutiny for its nuclear program." Former Brazilian President Lula da Silva's government had backed Iran's nuclear program in the U.N. Security Council, and had voted against sanctions. Further, under Lula's presidency, Brazil, along with Turkey, agreed on a deal to swap nuclear fuel to help Tehran end its stand-off with the West over the controversial atomic program. The deal, however, became overshadowed by U.S. sanctions.
CNN also reportsed that Ahani and his Brazilian counterpart, Maria Edileuza Fontenele, called for "the speedy implementation of agreements" reached by the two countries in the past. Such cooperation would include areas such as agriculture, biofuels and technology. Fontenele described Iran as one of "the most important partners of Brazil," and an "influential" country in the world, as reported by Iranian media outlet Press TV. "Such praise for Iran is likely to make observers in the United States and other countries cringe, as Tehran is under recent sanctions for its alleged nuclear weapons program. But Brazil, an emerging economic and political power, appears intent to try to make room for itself at the table of diplomatic powers by inserting itself in some of the world's most challenging conflicts. Iran is one of them," CNN commented.
The Iranian Fars News agency wrote that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) announced in a report in December 2009 that Brazil is the largest trading partner with Iran among the Latin American countries. Press TV also stated that bilateral trade with Brazil had quadrupled from $500 million in 2005 to $2 billion in 2009, and according to forecasts is going to increase to $10 billion in the next five years. In January 2010, Iran hosted a conference in Tehran on "Investment Opportunities in Brazil" to analyze ways to further expand economic cooperation between Iran and Brazil.. Even though in March, Brazil voted in favor of the appointment of a rapporteur to monitor human rights in Iran, it is clear that business seems to have precedence over any human rights abuse.
"Iran may appoint ambassador to Argentina"
During his trip to Brazil, Ahani gave an interview to the Brazilian newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo expressing the Iranian government's hope to appoint an ambassador to Buenos Aires in the near future. Argentina is the only country in Latin America where Iran has a charge d'affaires and not an ambassador. Ahani was very optimistic that Argentina will drop investigations against Iran over the bombing of the Argentine Israeli Mutual Association (AMIA) building in 1994 and that diplomatic relations between the two countries will be strengthen.
In the interview, the deputy FM has defined the bombing investigations as a "misunderstanding." The Tehran Times to support the thesis of the "misunderstanding" wrote that the case of the AMIA attack has remained "a mystery" for 17 years, and "no significant information" has been provided by the Argentine government on "the main cause of the incident" or the real culprits. "However, the Argentine government leveled false allegations against the Lebanese Hezbollah and Iran that it has never been able to prove. Ahani said Argentine judicial officials are suppressing certain realities and they only accused Iranian officials based on unfounded allegations," The Tehran Times wrote.
Argentina's top prosecutor, Alberto Nisman, says he has irrefutable evidence that Iran is involved in the deadly car bombing attack against AMIA. In an interview with the Inter Press Service, Nisman said that the accusation is based on a multiplicity of testimonies, "migration records, back-and-forth phone calls, and reports by public and private bodies." Nisman stated that "there is also evidence that has emerged from the meticulous tracing of banking operations and from interviews of our own. To identify the suicide driver, Ibrahim Berro (a Lebanese man belonging to the pro-Iranian Hezbollah militia), the depositions we took from his brothers were essential. We traced the nuclear technology transfer link between Argentina and Iran through a series of testimonies and reports from the corresponding public agencies."
Argentina has asked international law enforcement agencies to detain current the Iranian Defense Minister, Ahmad Vahidi ,for being the mastermind of the AMIA bombing. Vahidi went to Bolivia last June after receiving an official invitation by Bolivian President Evo Morales. Vahidi was then forced to leave the country after human rights groups put pressure on the Argentinean government to ask for his arrest by Interpol. As reported by the Buenos Aires Herald, as Vahidi was travelling with a diplomatic passport which granted him immunity, he managed to leave before being apprehended.
Deputy FM Ahani repeated that Iran had nothing to do with the 1994 bombing and that the Iran government is willing to offer help in identifying the culprits. Even though these remarks sound hypocritical, Argentine Foreign Minister Hector Timerman recently said that Iran's offer to find out who are the real culprits is "an unprecedented and very positive step."
After Brazil, Ahani visited Uruguay after a conference in its capital, Montevideo, during which Iran's Ambassador, Hojatollah Soltani, declared that the Nazi Holocaust was a lie. "Maybe some people died, some were murdered, I don't know, maybe thousands of Jews. But that figure of 2 million, 4 million, 6 million…that is a lie according to some European historians who have submitted documents," he had said.
Uruguay's Foreign Minister, Luis Almagro, condemned Soltani's statements, but softened his declaration by saying that diplomatic and trade relations with Iran would not be affected by the incident. Press TV reports that Ahani described his meeting with Uruguayan senators and lawmakers as useful. The Iranian and Uruguayan officials emphasized the importance of further interactions among political, economic and parliamentary institutions of the two countries. The Tehran Times published an article saying that Iran's cooperation efforts with Uruguay will go as far as fighting narco-traffic. The news is paradoxical: the Iranian-supported movement, Hezbollah, has been financing part its activities through drug smuggling in Latin America.
Relations between Iran and Uruguay are growing stronger. Press TV and Fars News reports that a parliamentary delegation from Uruguay recently visited Tehran; and that the Iranian Parliament Speaker, Ali Larijani, officially invited Chairman of the Uruguayan House of Representative, Luis Alberto Lacalle, to attend the Fifth Conference in Support of the Palestinian Intifada to be held in Tehran in October.
During Ahani's visit to Paraguay, the Iranian deputy FM said the two countries are studying several documents on bilateral cooperation, hoping that implementation of the documents would bring about a major development in Iran-Paraguay relations, as reported by Iranian news agency IRNA. The Paraguayan government is keen to develop further economic relations with the Islamic Republic, and underlined the need for expansion of "all-out cooperation between the two nations."
Iran sees new opportunities in Latin America
Iran sees new opportunities of alliances in Latin America. The Middle East is now under fire, as protestors all over the regions are fighting for their rights. Syria's President, Bashar Al-Assad, Iran's main ally in the Middle East, may sooner or later be toppled; according to some Arab media outlets Iranian diplomats are allegedly already evacuating Syria;s capital city, Damascus. Iran will therefore be needing new allies to help overcome sanctions against the country's nuclear program, and to stand with it against the U.S.
In Latin America, Iran has found a region with which to develop economic relations and expand business, both of which of great importance for the currently sanctioned Islamic Republic. According to The Tehran Times, Iran's non-oil exports to the Latin American countries have surged to around 15%: they stood at $137 million dollars two years ago, and have increased to $151 million dollars in just the last year.
Latin American countries, to develop new businesses and overcome their current financial crises, are ready to become Iran's best political allies, and help the Islamic Republic in the U.N. to pursue its both its ideological agenda and its nuclear program.