Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran's president, has started a diplomatic offensive in Latin America to shore up economic and political ties in the region.
"The entire policy that we are seeing from the United States and its allies in Europe really has not been thought out in terms of a long-term strategy. I think the United states, the Obama administration particularly, is really responding to domestic pressure groups within the United states, responding to the pro-Israel lobby, responding to sort of the segments of the Republican Party."
- Nader Hashemi, a professor of Middle East and Islamic politics
Ahmadinejad arrived in Venezuela on Sunday. As part of his five-day tour, he will also visit Ecuador, Nicaragua and Cuba. It is his sixth trip to the continent since taking office.
Strengthening ties with the region has become one of Iran's foreign policy priorities. And his visit appears to have been well timed - coming just as Iran is feeling the heat from the tougher sanctions being considered by Europe and the US.
The country has already been forced to prop up its currency just days after the US made it difficult for foreign firms to do business with the country’s central bank.
And a European oil embargo, which now looks likely, would add to the pressure on Tehran.
But Iran is threatening to respond to the sanctions by closing the Strait of Hormuz, through which 35 per cent of the world's oil passes.
Iran has a history of trade ties with several South American nations and there is no doubt Ahmadinejad is looking to expand his influence in the region.
So is Ahmadinejad's push into Latin America part of an effort to circumvent some of the tighter sanctions being considered by Europe and the US? Or is it simply a display of strength by a confident nation? And are economic sanctions merely strengthening Tehran's hand?
Inside Story Americas discusses with guests: Trita Parsi, the founder of the National Iranian American Council and the author of A Single Roll of the Dice - Obama's Diplomacy with Iran; Nader Hashemi, a professor of Middle East and Islamic Politics and author of The People Reloaded: The Green Movement and the Struggle for Iran's Future; and Reuel Marc Gerecht, a former Middle East specialist at the CIA who currently works with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
|"When we came into office, the world was divided. Iran was unified, and moving aggressively on its own agenda. Today, Iran is isolated and the world is unified and applying the toughest sanctions that Iran's ever experienced and it's having an impact inside Iran."
Barack Obama, the US president