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America - Inter American Forum
Iranian Aid to Nicaragua:
Inflating the Threat to the US...Again?
Adriana Amat: Iran has promised in the last few
months to provide economic aid to Nicaragua, financing an ocean port with
cost of $350 million dollars and 10,000 housing units. Iran is also
interested in financing a hydroelectric project by the end of the year with
a value of $120 million dollars. All of this has served to tighten the
relationship between Iranian president Ahmadinejad and Daniel Ortega. This
does not sit well with Washington. This is the report:
Video with Voiceover: Historically, Iran and Latin America have had
almost no relations. (Voice Change) The security council of the United
Nations approved this Monday....(Voice Change) And now confronted directly
by Washington over concerns about its nuclear program, and open criticisms
of Israel, the government of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has taken advantage of the
triumph of leftist governments in Latin America for political incursions
into the region. (Voice Change) ...Not since Mr. Ortega's
inauguration...(Voice Change) In an agreement between the Iranian government
and Latin America, Teheran
decided to donate hundreds of millions of dollars to Nicaragua to construct
a hydroelectric facility, 10,000 houses, a Caribbean port, and another port
in the Pacific. In exchange, Nicaragua will
export meat, coffee and bananas to Iran. (voice change) between Washington
and Managua have been cordial....(Voice Change) Daniel Ortega arrived in
office seeking good relations with the US government. But in the last few
months has intensified the relationships between his country and Cuba,
Venezuela and Iran, countries that are declared enemies of Washington.
Roger Noriega (US ex sub secretary of state at the American
Enterprise Institute) "You really have to go out of your way to reach out to
one of the four biggest rogue states in the world, Iran, which is recognized
as a pariah by all the respectable countries of the world,� says Noriega.
�So unfortunately, President Ortega seems to be going back to the past."
Voice Change: The government of president George W.
Bush has on more than one occasion been
categorized as interventionist by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Hugo Chavez "Bush is
a Terrorist" and Ortega "a policy of intervention"
(1980's clip) have been opposed to the policy of the US.
Voice Change: "We are very pleased to see...
Another sign of tightening relations between Teheran and Latin America is
Quito (video of a Iran Air jetliner parked on the tarmac)
and this is not an isolated case. It has signed accords between Iran and
other Latin American countries, concretely, Venezuela and Cuba. The Iranian
news agency, IRNA, said that agreements between Iran and Cuba will establish
preferential tariffs and conditions for investment and consumer goods, an
accord that is now underway between Iran and Venezuela.
Michael Shifter (Interamerican Dialogue) "They are obviously under enormous
criticism, from a lot of governments, not only the United States, but also
European governments, Iran wants respect, and thinks that having Latin
American countries on its side and working with it, it will change this
pariah status that they have right now."
After a nuclear cooperation treaty between Iran and Nicaragua, Paul
Trivelli, US ambassador in the central American country, signaled that Iran
could be a dangerous partner for this country. Trivelli made these comments
the same day that delivered to Nicaragua thousands of tractors manufactured
by a Venezuelan Iranian factory. These tractors were sent to Nicaragua under
a program called the "Bolivarian alternative for the Americas" from
president Hugo Chavez who delivers energy and machinery to leftist countries
in the hemisphere. Paul Trivelli recalled that the United Nations had placed
a series of sanctions on Iran for refusing to dismantle its nuclear program.
John Bolton: "The resolution will still be there,
But Ortega has said the links forged by Ortega with Iran will not affect
good relations between Nicaraguans and the United States. Experts
say the connection Iran-Latin America, or to say, Ahmadinejad, Chavez,
Ortega, has already touched another president in the region, Rafael Correa
in Ecuador. President Ahmadinejad attended the
inaugural ceremony of Correa on January 15. Recently the two governments
wrote a memorandum of understanding for the creation of an economic
commission between the two countries, although their first state meeting is
tentative and Ecuadorian authorities say it will occur in coming months.
What is behind these efforts? And what does Iran hope for? Experts have the
final word; Jose Luis Espinoso for Voice of
Adriana Amat: Thanks Jose. And that is precisely why we have an
expert with us today for these theme we have Grant Smith from the Institute
for Research: Middle Eastern Policy, I am pleased to have you here today,
Grant Smith: Thank you Adriana.
Adriana Amat: What is the significance of these cooperation accords,
one for Iran, two for Nicaragua, and three for Washington?
Grant Smith: Well around this theme, we have "rapprochement" between
"the isolated." Sometimes the isolated are mutually attractive, like
magnets. We can see that, I believe, that it is not a repetition of the
Reagan years, in which there was armed conflict between the "Contras"
against Nicaragua, with Noriega (Roger) and others
are voicing opposition to the tightening ties between Iran and Nicaragua. I
think it is important to say that Nicaragua in this moment is trying to
balance itself between the US and these countries. What the report did not
mention is, for example, that they are negotiating for helicopters and
medicines, in exchange for some Soviet missiles (small ones) that Nicaragua
still has, and they say that this negotiation is going quite well.
Adriana Amat: Are these the same missiles the US asked Nicaragua to
destroy years ago?
Grant Smith: I think they were ordered, yes. It is a negotiating
chip. They want medicine and choppers, and they want them in exchange for
those. Basically, they are arms from...look.
heard in the Reagan years of the immanent Nicaraguan invasion of Texas,
we've heard of the delivery of Soviet MiGs to Nicaragua, right before the
Sandanistan elections at that time (later proved false),
as a neutral observer, one has to take with a bit of caution
about the different words in this "war of words". ,
Adriana Amat: Fine, but a poor country, with so many problems, of
energy, in Nicaragua, if they are offered two, three hydroelectric plants,
they'll take them.
Grant Smith: Obviously they'll take them. More importantly, they'll
take the 10,000 houses too. This is the type of aid that drives this type of
press conference. They are saying to other donor countries "Alright, what
can the North and other countries give us for our development?"
Because the situation in Nicaragua is very poor, and we can say that the
United States has a certain responsibility. We caused
some of that. When Daniel Ortega entered in
November, the first thing he did was start pushing the free trade agreement
(FTA), and important pact between all of Central America. The report did not
mention that important achievement. Daniel Ortega only has a minority
position in parliament, so there are broader interests steering Nicaragua.
Adriana Amat: However, if I understood something you just said, this
is a way for Daniel Ortega to say to the United States, I want to have good
relations with you, but look what my other friends are giving me. What can
you do for me?
Grant Smith: Yes, this is the game we saw quite a bit in the bi-polar
world, only now we are in a more multi-polar world with a single super
power, the US. Ortega is using a model that worked well, most of the time,
balancing as part of a "non-aligned group" one party against another. The
problem for him is that Russia is nolonger the
strong counterweight offering aid, in that sense
Iran is a more dangerous partner, no doubt about it.
Adriana Amat: Do you believe that for Iran this pact is basically
politically symbolic ?
Grant Smith: It is symbolic, but look what
has happened in the past week. The United States,
the Bush Administration, is considering declaring that Iran's Revolutionary
Guard, 125,000 soldiers in Iran, is a terrorist
group. The timing of the announcement is clear, because there are some
military exercises between Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, China all in
Russia, all these central Asian countries, with all this energy potential,
and Iran is an observer of this group (SCO), in
these exercises. By raising the level of the rhetorical war, the United
States is saying to the Revolutionary
Guard "you may be terrorists" we are going to
classify you as terrorists. This is the unit
in Iran that was formed to protect the image and achievements of the 1979
revolution. This is a direct attack, a way to say "Iran is a terrorist
state". There is no doubt about that message.
Adriana Amat: And at the same time, it is a diplomatic game.
Grant Smith: A very brutal diplomatic game,
on varying fronts, various geographies, coming to a head this week.
Adriana Amat: How preoccupied should Washington be, really, with
these alliances between Ortega, Chavez, Ahmadinejad, it is a red alert, but
should they really be preoccupied, independently of what you mention, about
the subtle diplomatic attack?
Grant Smith: I think that one of the things they've learned about
Nicaragua from the Reagan years, is that sometimes the perceived threat, the
worst case scenario, is not the reality.
Adriana Amat: But you think that what is happening is just a show?
Grant Smith: It's a show. And even when Iran is talking about putting
up some refineries, , in other countries...
Grant Smith:...gasoline in Iran is a scarce resource because it is
subsidized and sold below market prices. Some of these great offers are not
really within the capabilities of Iran right now.
Adriana Amat: And so you say Iran is obviously a terrorist state?
Grant Smith: No, I didn't say that Iran is a terrorist state, the
Bush Administration is naming them, indirectly.
Adriana Amat: Fine, the Bush administration and ambassador Paul
where I'm going with this is the following, Grant.
Iran is a threat for the United States, but the fact that they are allying
with persons such as Daniel Ortega, or Hugo Chavez, really should be
Grant Smith: No. Before anything, I am not in agreement that Iran is
some big threat to the United States.
Adriana Amat: But you agree that it is a dangerous partner for
country like Nicaragua?
Grant Smith: Sure, it is an ally that the Bush administration
considers dangerous. But let's look at who says they are such a dangerous
ally. Let's look at who is saying that. Noriega (Roger) was up to his elbows
in the US Contra war against Nicaragua in the 1980's. He's got his agenda,
but I don't think his agenda is either open or very rationally thought out.
The US can have a great deal of problems with Iran, in the Gulf, if there is
an armed conflict, because the Iranians have the capability of shutting down
petroleum flow through the Gulf. The US is preoccupied by the nuclear
program. But Iran the great threat? Right now? Against the United States?
And our domestic interests? I think it's a little inflated sometimes the
rhetorical warfare that's coming out of Washington.
Adriana Amat: Excellent, for clarifying
Grant Smith: I'd like to have an hour to discuss it, because it's not
only me, there are numerous analysts in Washington who have spoken of this
threat, particularly a nuclear threat, as a distant one. There's plenty of
time to negotiate. It is counterproductive to continue the war of words.
Adriana Amat: I want to take a minute and have you
tell me about the latest book published by the Institute, written by you.
Grant Smith: In this moment, in Washington, there is a great deal of
focus, right now, in Foreign Agents. Ken Silverstein, a very important
author did a study about how foreign lobbies enter the US to influence
Congress. Our Institute as well has studied and is very focused on this
theme and, by coincidence, the Silverstein study was called "Foreign
Agents", our book that has just come out, is also called "Foreign Agents".
It has just come onto the market.
Adriana Amat: It is out on the market?
Grant Smith: Yes.
Adriana Amat: Congratulations.