London-based U.S. strategist and expert on foreign affairs Marco Vicenzino told Asharq Al-Awsat in an interview published Sunday that the states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) are capable of checking Iranian influence in Latin America.
“If GCC states strengthen their relations with Latin American states such as Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Chile and Mexico, they can effectively check Iranian attempts to expand its interests in the region”, the expert said.
The comments of Vicenzino coincides with the scheduled visit of Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to several South American states, including Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Cuba and Chile.
Vicenzino said that with the exception of Chile, there is relatively nothing new in Iran’s relationship with these states. Iran had pre-existing relations with these Latin American states during the sanctions-era. “Some of these states, like Nicaragua, are indebted to the Iranian regime,” he said.
Vicenzino said the aim of Zarif’s visit were mainly diplomatic, political and commercial and to break the ice with Chile by re-establishing diplomatic relations which were broken in 1980. Iran also seeks to increase opportunities for technical and engineering sector in these states.
The expert added: “If we look at the visit of Zarif, we find that it targets the leftist, poorest and most politically dysfunctional Latin American states that suffer economically and some might witness a change of regime in the foreseeable future.
Vicenzino, who is the founder and director of the Global Strategy Project, said Ecuador is an example where there may be a tremendous change in foreign policy after its 2017 presidential elections. An opposition candidate, such as Alvaro Noboa, has a real chance of winning against a candidate supported by the current government of Rafael Correa, an ally of the Iranian regime.
Vicenzino said it is important to note that Zarif’s itinerary does not include visits to leading Latin American states such as Brazil, Colombia, Argentina and Mexico.
The expert said Iran’s influence in Latin American was limited and faces several challenges. “The Iranian regime suffered a major diplomatic reversal when Mauricio Macri replaced Cristina Fernandez as president in Argentina. Major setbacks for the left in Brazil, including the impeachment of President Dilma Rouseff, also adds to Iran’s diplomatic woes in Latin America,” Vicenzino also said.
The GCC states obviously have a strong relationship with the U.S. and there is a convergence of interests in seeing the Gulf States build a stronger presence in Latin America to the detriment of Iranian interests.
Commenting on Iran’s attempts to expand its interests in Latin America, Vicenzino said: “There is clear proof of Iranian and Hizbullah supported terrorist activities such as the bombing of the Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1994. A case that is still open and for which Iranian officials have been implicated. Also illicit activities in places like Venezuela and the tri-border region between Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay have long been public knowledge.”
He added that Latin America has been experiencing a geopolitical shift away from leftist, populist governments to centrist governments with a more main mainstream and cooperative international outlook. This clearly presents an historic opportunity for the GCC states, together with the U.S., to seize upon through effective diplomacy and outreach at all levels.
Vicenzino said “broadly speaking, Iran is playing a weak hand in Latin America. In the not too distant future some of its current allies could change government and downgrade, if not completely abandon, relations with Iran. Iran’s foreign minister is experiencing an uphill struggle in Latin America.”