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Iran’s influence in Latin America worries US

WASHINGTON – Iran is making allies in Latin America to counter Washington’s traditional influence in the region and could use them to threaten U.S. security, a top U.S. diplomat said on Wednesday.

“We are worried that in the event of a conflict with Iran, that it would attempt to use its presence in the region to conduct such activities against us,” Thomas Shannon, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere, told Reuters.

Left-wing governments in Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua and Bolivia have all become allies of Iran in recent years, and other countries in Latin America have diplomatic ties with the Islamic republic.

Shannon said Iran wants to ease its international isolation by showing it is able to win friends in Latin America, which has been historically in the United States’ “sphere of influence.”

Washington accuses Iran of supporting terrorist groups and secretly trying to produce nuclear bombs, and is concerned by its courting of allies in Latin America.

Shannon urged the region’s governments to respect U.N.-backed sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program and recalled accusations that Iran was involved in attacks on the Israeli embassy and a Jewish community center in Argentina’s capital Buenos Aires during the 1990s.

“We urge our friends and partners in the region to be vigilant,” he said, adding that those attacks show Iran is able “to conduct terrorist operations within the Americas.”

Iran has denied any involvement in the Buenos Aires attacks, which killed well over 100 people.