This week, Vice President Joe Biden completed a two-stop tour of Mexico and Honduras. This was a welcome though, in my opinion, long overdue sign of engagement with two key allies.
However, I am concerned by the vice president’s suggestion that the United States need not be worried by Iran’s intentions in the region and his guarantee that “Iran will not be able to pose a hemispheric threat to the United States.”
The greatest threat the world faces today is a nuclear Iran. We have seen this problem coming for years. Now, despite a series of recent sanctions, Iran continues advancing in its nuclear-weapons program. As a result, an emboldened Iran has turned to Latin America to help pursue its goals, with the threat manifesting itself in the region in several alarming ways.
For example, Iran has worked hard to deepen its diplomatic and economic relationships in the region to undermine international sanctions against it. Iran’s Quds Force has been stationing its operatives in foreign embassies, charities, and religious organizations in the region. It has supported Hezbollah activities in the Tri-Border Area of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay. And last October, the U.S. charged two men, including a member of Iran’s Quds Force, with conspiracy to murder a foreign official after uncovering a terrorist plot seeking Mexican drug-cartel operatives to assassinate Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States. Even General Doug Fraser of the U.S. Southern Command said recently that Iran could be looking to exploit drug routes as an avenue into the United States.
There’s a reason Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited several Latin American countries earlier this year. It was to solidify alliances that will give Iran more diplomatic cover on the global stage, expand its influence in the region, and ultimately build relationships with terrorist-sympathizing tyrants like Hugo Chávez, a puppet of Raul Castro, and Evo Morales and Daniel Ortega, puppets of Chávez. Iran’s ultimate goal is to one day use these governments to help them launch attacks against innocents in the region, including the United States.
We need to take the Iranian challenge — everywhere and particularly in the Western Hemisphere — more seriously. We need more than tough talk to prevent the Iranian threat from gaining momentum in Latin America. We need a real strategy to deal with this threat. That’s why, in the near future, I will be introducing a bill requiring the secretary of state to develop a comprehensive strategy countering Iran’s growing presence and hostile activities in the Western Hemisphere, an idea first put forth in the House by Rep. Jeff Duncan.
The Obama administration needs to refocus on Latin America — on strengthening our friendships with key allies, promoting economic opportunities in the region, and defending democracy when it’s assaulted. When the United States fails to take a leadership role in our hemisphere, our enemies are eager to pounce and exploit the opportunity. It is time to wake up about the growing challenges and missed opportunities in Latin America.
— Senator Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Ranking Member of its Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Peace Corps and Global Narcotics Affairs, and a member of the Select Committee on Intelligence.