July 13, 2009
Ahmadinejad's Tropical Getaway?
Iranian penetration of Latin America is a serious concern. Except, you know, when it doesn't exist:
MANAGUA, Nicaragua -- For months, the reports percolated in Washington and other capitals. Iran was constructing a major beachhead in Nicaragua as part of a diplomatic push into Latin America, featuring huge investment deals, new embassies and even TV programming from the Islamic republic.
"The Iranians are building a huge embassy in Managua," Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton warned in May. "And you can only imagine what that's for."
But here in Nicaragua, no one can find any super-embassy.
Nicaraguan reporters scoured the sprawling tropical city in search of the embassy construction site. Nothing. Nicaraguan Chamber of Commerce chief Ernesto Porta laughed and said: "It doesn't exist." Government officials say the U.S. Embassy complex is the only "mega-embassy" in Managua. A U.S. diplomat in Managua conceded: "There is no huge Iranian Embassy being built as far as we can tell."
The mysterious, unseen giant embassy underscores how Iran's expansion into Latin America may be less substantive than some in Washington fear.
Iran's proposed investments in Nicaragua -- for a deep-water port, hydroelectric plants and a tractor factory -- have also failed to materialize, Nicaraguan officials say. At a time when Iran's oil revenue is falling, the same is true of many projects planned for Latin America, according to analysts.
U.S. officials emphasized that there is plenty of reason to be concerned about Iran, which they consider a state sponsor of terrorism. But the Iranian activity has revived Cold War-style rhetoric in Washington that at times doesn't match what is evident in places such as Managua.
Last month, Rep. Connie Mack (R-Fla.) even told reporters in a call organized by the Israel Project that "the growing influence of Iran in the Western Hemisphere reminds me of the relationship between Russia and Cuba when we dealt with the Cuban missile crisis."
It is not clear where the report of the embassy in Managua began. But in the past two years, it has made its way into congressional testimony, think tank reports, press accounts, and diplomatic events in the United States and elsewhere.
Hey, maybe we just haven't sent the right man to find this super-secret base. But seriously, this seems like a pretty ridiculous flashback to the days when we saw Soviet conspiracies behind everything. Iran is certainly no friend of the United States and not to be underestimated, but let's not blow it out of proportion. Iran is no Soviet Union. I doubt its capacity to build a mega-anything, let alone a mega-embassy on the other side of the world. And I find it hard to believe that Iranian TV would catch on in Nicaragua.