Iranian minister's trip to Cuba, Latin America raises concern about its
influence in region
By Andrew O'Reilly Published August 25, 2016 Fox News Latino
Trailed by an enormous delegation of economic advisors, Iran's Foreign
Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif arrived in Havana earlier this week to
start a six-day swing through Latin America.
The trip to Cuba, in which Zarif met with various dignitaries including
Cuban President Raúl Castro, was billed by the foreign minister as one
that would unite two countries with histories of resisting what he
referred to as "atrocities" by the United States.
"It's a very opportune moment to extend our relations," Zarif said at a
press conference. "We have always been on the side of the great Cuban
people in the face of the atrocities and unjust sanctions they have
faced, and vice-versa."
Foreign policy analysts say that Zarif's trip and his choice of words in
Havana should not be taken lightly by Washington, especially as the
Obama administration has worked hard in the last few years to improve
the tense relations with both Havana and Tehran.
"The U.S. should be very aware of this type of mission to Cuba and what
Iran's plans are," Leah Soibel, executive director of Fuente Latina,
told Fox News Latino.
The U.S. – along with the United Kingdom, France, China, Russia and
Germany – brokered a controversial deal last year with Iran that would
limit the Islamic republic's nuclear program in exchange for the lifting
of crippling economic sanctions.
In a historic moment that ended decades of Cold War animosity, Cuba and
the U.S. re-established diplomatic ties last year and have slowly worked
to normalize issues like travel, money exchange and information sharing.
The historic rapprochement, however, has still not brought an end to the
U.S. embargo imposed on the communist island since 1962.
Cuba and Iran have had close relations ever since the Middle Eastern
country's 1979 Islamic revolution, which overthrew Shah Mohammad Reza
Pahlavi and installed Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini as the nation's
supreme leader. Following the revolution, the U.S. established economic
sanctions against the country.
Since then, decades of mutual ideological enmity toward the U.S. have
forged a strong bond between the two nations.
"Both Cuba and Iran have reached a road map after years of sanctions
which they should use to explore new economic opportunities and take
advantage of each other's capabilities," said Cuban Minister of Foreign
Trade and Foreign Investment Malmierca Díaz, according to Iranian media.
Zarif's stop in Havana – before heading to Nicaragua, Ecuador, Chile,
Bolivia and Venezuela – is also seen as a symbolic move on the part of
Iran to reach out to the sociopolitical leader of Latin America's
left-leaning nations. Since Fidel Castro took power in Cuba in 1959,
socialist leaders like the Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela and Nicaragua's
President Daniel Ortega have looked to Cuba as ideological guidepost.
"Cuba is a very important player in regards to Iran's relations with
Latin America," Soibel said. "If Cuba gives the greenlight, the rest of
the nations will follow suit."
Of the other countries on Zarif's itinerary, Ecuador and Bolivia also
have leaders in presidents Rafael Correa and Evo Morales who have
enjoyed warm relations with the Castro regime.
Despite the fanfare of the visit, some experts argue that Iran doesn't
have much to offer Cuba, and that leaders in Tehran are worried that the
island's thaw in relations with the U.S. threatens to undermine what
influence the Iranians have in the communist nation.
"They're jockeying for Cuba's favor," Chris Sabatini, a professor at
Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs, told
FNL. "Iran can't bail Cuba out of its economic crisis, and Cuba knows that."
Sabatini added that while it is important for the U.S. to monitor the
visit, it shouldn't be as big a cause for concern as it would have been
before the thaw.
"The U.S. is becoming more and more of an influence – not just now in
Cuba, but it will continue into the future," he said.
Follow Andrew O'Reilly on Twitter @aoreilly84.
Source: Iranian minister's trip to Cuba, Latin America raises concern
about its influence in region | Fox News Latino -