U.S. House acts to counter Iranian Latin influence

The U. S. House of Representatives has passed unanimously a resolution demanding that the U.S. government thwart Iran’s attempts to establish relationships with countries in the Western Hemisphere.

The bill addresses concerns that Iran is cozying up to Latin American countries so that its affiliated terrorist cells, like Hezbollah and Quds Force, can infiltrate those nations and threaten U.S. interests as well as the United States itself. The vote was Wednesday.

These organizations have also used illegal narcotics trafficking to generate funds, according to the bill, which cited an attempt connected to the Iranian Republican Guard Corp’s Qods Force to hire a drug trafficker from Mexico to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador in the United States.

In debate on the bill, members of Congress specifically called attention to recent events indicating that Iranian and Lebanese terrorists are in Central America, including Israeli media reports that one group has set up a training camp in Nicaragua.

“Iran has publicly stated that increasing their presence and ties to Latin America is one of their top foreign policy objectives,” said U.S. Rep. Jeffrey Duncan, who authored and introduced the bill. “We must be able to clearly identify this threat and develop strategies, strategies which include working with our neighbors here in this hemisphere to prevent Iran from being a danger to our country here at home.”

He is from South Carolina.

The bill calls on the U.S. Department of State to create a comprehensive report detailing the extent of Iran’s involvement with countries in the Western Hemisphere, the strength of Iranian backed terrorist cells in the area, and a plan of how to address the threat.

The bill, “Countering Iran in the Western Hemisphere Act of 2012,” was brought up for approval at a tumultuous time in the United States’ relationship with the Middle East and North Africa.

Last week, an anti-Islamic film made in the United States and posted to the Internet triggered anti-American protests across the Muslim world. Four U.S. consular employees, including the ambassador were killed in an attack on a U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

While debating the bill, U.S. lawmakers cited recent news regarding Hezbollah in Central America. Hezbollah is a militant Lebanese political party that the U.S. Department of State considers a terrorist organization.

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican representing the state of Florida, said that Mexican authorities Sept. 9 detained three suspected members of Hezbollah, one of whom was an American citizen. That was near Mérida in the Yucatan. She also cited Israeli media reports that Hezbollah had established a training camp in Nicaragua.

The government of Nicaragua has not confirmed these reports although President Daniel Ortega has established close relations with Middle Eastern countries, particularly Iran.

U.S. Rep. Brian Higgins, a Democrat from New York, said that Hezbollah has 80 operatives in Latin America and is active in 15 American cities.

In the bill, numerous countries are named as having publicly expressed willingness to help Iran evade economic sanctions, including Nicaragua and Venezuela.

“We must be particularly vigilant towards the relationship between Iran and Venezuela given the opacity of the ties governing each country and the anti-American bombast of their leaders,” said Eliot Engel, a Democrat from New York.

The bill said that Iran has 11 embassies and had funded 17 cultural centers in Latin America. Costa Rica does not have an Iranian consular office.

Duncan, a Republican, introduced the bill in January of this year and it accumulated 87 sponsors among the House of Representative’s 435 members. It passed unanimously and will move on to the Senate.

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