National Press Club

Iran expanding influence in Latin America, think tank scholar tells Newsmaker

March 20, 2012 | By Peter Hickman | pjhickman@hotmail.com

Iran is "making inroads and provoking worries" in Latin America in an attempt to "project an image of global power...far beyond its actual impact," according to a report by the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) released at a March 16 Newsmaker.

The author of the report, Stephen Johnson, senior fellow and director of the Americas Program at the Washington-based think tank, told the Newsmaker that Iran is seeking foreign partners in the region in an effort to "expand trade, intertwine its finances more tightly into the international banking system and forge political alliances."

However, Johnson said, by most measures Iran "has been only partly successful, managing to have only a small amount of influence with a handful of governments" in the Americas.

And although that "may not present an existential threat to the United States," he added, "it could mean trouble for the hemisphere if Iran decided to raise tensions through renewed support for foreign terrorism or development of a nuclear weapon."

Given these possibilities, Johnson said, "it is important to understand the motives of Iran and its partners in exploiting links, as well as the assets and liabilities of such relationships for each side as Iran tries to gain a foothold."

Johnson warned that overestimating a potential Iranian threat could result in "reactions more damaging than anything that country could do by degrading U.S. relations with neighboring governments and publics." On the other hand, he said, underestimating a potential threat could "send the wrong message about U.S. seriousness to counter challenges to its interests and those of its democratic allies."

The report is entitled "Iran's Influence in the Americas," and is available from CSIS.