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Is Iran's presence in Latin America a threat? The White House says yes.

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But Gary Sick, an Iran expert at Columbia University in New York, does see some parallels with the 1950s, when many American politicians saw a “communist under every bed,” he says. “Now they see an Iranian under every bed.”

Mr. Sick says the signing of the act does not mean that the US has ramped up its view of Iran’s capabilities in Latin America, but that, as in the cold war, to vote “against security” is politically untenable.

“I don’t think the Obama administration is lying awake at night worrying if Iranians are going to attack from the south. But how can you possibly vote against increased alertness to our south?” Sick says.

The new law, which was passed by lawmakers in Washington late last year, calls upon the US to create a “comprehensive government-wide strategy to counter Iran's growing hostile presence and activity in the Western Hemisphere by working together with United States allies and partners in the region,” according to the bill.

In Latin America that includes a “multiagency action plan” that calls for the US and partners in the region to create “a counterterrorism and counter-radicalization plan to isolate Iran.” In Mexico and Canada, specifically, the US aims to tighten border control with its counterparts with an eye toward evading an Iranian security threat.

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