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Ahmadinejad's Latin America trip kicks sand in US eyes, but is it threatening?

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In the run-up to Ahmadinejad’s trip, Iranian officials touted the rising importance of Latin America to Iran. “The promotion of all-out cooperation with Latin American countries is among the top priorities of the Islamic republic’s foreign policy,” said the official IRIB News Agency last week.

Such talk irks the Obama administration, which has its eyes set on Latin America as President Obama pursues his 2010 goal of doubling US exports by 2015. The administration ushered free-trade agreements with Colombia and Panama through Congress last year, and Mr. Obama would like to announce their implementation by the time he attends a Summit of the Americas in Colombia in April.

The administration was largely quiet about Ahmadinejad’s last trip to Latin America (a trip that included powerhouse Brazil) in 2009, but that’s not so true this time around, reflecting the rising tensions between the two countries.

In a recent interview with El Universal newspaper in Caracas, Obama said the Venezuelan government’s “ties with Iran and Cuba have not benefited the interests of Venezuela and its people.”

“Sooner or later,” he added, “Venezuela’s people will have to decide what possible advantage there is in having relations with a country that violates fundamental human rights … is isolated from most of the world [and] has consistently supported international terrorism.”

The administration in May imposed financial sanctions on Venezuela’s state-owned PDVSA oil company for violating US law by selling two tankers' worth of refined petroleum products to Iran.

But Republicans hoping to pin the “soft on Iran” label on Obama in this election year have sounded sharper alarms about Iran’s activities in Latin America.

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