United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

Kerry Presses Iraq on Iran Flights to Syria

            On March 24, Secretary of State John Kerry pressed Iraq to inspect Iranian cargo flights for arms. Iranian flights are “helping to sustain” the Syrian regime, Kerry claimed during a previously unannounced visit to Baghdad. The United States suspects that Tehran is using the flights to supply arms to Bashar al Assad’s forces. But Iraqi officials have claimed that the planes only carry humanitarian supplies. Abbas al-Bayati, a member of parliament’s Security and Defense Committee, said Iraq has not found weapons during its random inspections of Iranian planes, according to Reuters.

            In March 2012, State Department Spokesperson Victoria Nuland told reporters that the United States was “concerned” about Iranian cargo flights. But the issue remains unresolved one year later. Secretary Kerry warned Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki that some members of Congress are increasingly monitoring Iraqi behavior. They are wondering how Iraq can be “doing something that makes it more difficult” to achieve shared Iraqi-U.S. goals in Syria. The following are excerpts from Kerry’s remarks to the press.
            …Iraq’s success will take enormous cooperation. It’ll take dialogue and it’ll take courage. It’ll require the resolve to defend the sovereignty of the country and its airspace. It will take a commitment to being a good neighbor in a difficult neighborhood. And as Iraqi leaders make difficult decisions in these areas, we are going to work to try to help them succeed….
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, can you tell us what you told Prime Minister Maliki about the flow of Iranian arms through Iraq into Syria, and what specific commitment you got from him to try to start doing something about that?
SECRETARY KERRY: We had a very spirited discussion on the subject of the overflights. And I made it very clear that for those of us who are engaged in an effort to see President Assad step down and to see a democratic process take hold with a transitional government according to the Geneva Communiqué, for those of us engaged in that effort, anything that supports President Assad is problematic. And I made it very clear to the Prime Minister that the overflights from Iran are, in fact, helping to sustain President Assad and his regime.
So we agreed to try to provide more information with respect to this, but I also made it clear to him that there are members of Congress and people in America who increasingly are watching what Iraq is doing and wondering how it is that a partner in the efforts for democracy and a partner for whom Americans feel they have tried so hard to be helpful – how that country can be, in fact, doing something that makes it more difficult to achieve our common goals, the goal expressed by the Prime Minister with respect to Syria and President Assad.
So my hope is that we’ll be able to make some progress on this, and I’m taking some homework back to Washington with me, and I think the Prime Minister will have discussions here...
Click here for the full transcript.

Khamenei Open to Direct U.S. Talks

            Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said he is not opposed to direct talks with the United States in a speech marking Nowruz, the Persian New Year. But he is “not optimistic” about prospects for success if negotiations take place. Khamenei claimed that the United States “doesn’t want the nuclear conflict to end.” The “archenemy of Iran” uses negotiation offers to “mislead public opinion in the world and in Iran,” he told thousands of pilgrims in the holy city of Mashhad on March 21.

            The supreme leader claimed the Islamic Republic is not seeking nuclear weapons, and only wants to “preserve its right to [uranium] enrichment.” But Israel is not convinced, and it is determined to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran. Khamenei threatened to “raze Tel Aviv and Haifa to the ground” if Israel strikes.
            Khamenei claimed that Western sanctions have “failed to cripple the Iranian nation” in another Nowruz address broadcast on March 20. But he acknowledged that Iranians were “under pressure” during the past year. Khamenei also seemed to reference government mismanagement of the economy. “There were certain cases of negligence and laxity, which aided the enemy in his plans.”
            The supreme leader encouraged Iranians to vote in the June presidential election. “All those who are committed to our national interests… have a right and responsibility to take part in the elections,” he said on March 21. Khamenei also warned against disputing the results of the election, telling Iranians to “accept what the majority of the people decide through their votes.”
            The following are excerpts from Khamenei’s speeches marking the start of the Persian year 1392, which he dubbed “The Year of Political and Economic Valor." A subtitled video of his March 20 address is also included below.

Direct U.S.-Iran Negotiations
            “The Americans have been sending messages for some time asking Iran to hold separate negotiations with them regarding the nuclear issue, but on the basis of our past experiences I am not optimistic about such negotiations…”
            “From the viewpoint of the Americans, negotiation does not mean that we should sit down together and try to find a logical solution. This is not what they mean by negotiation. What they mean is that we should sit down together and speak until Iran accepts their views. The goal has been announced in advance: Iran will have to accept their views. For this reason, we have always announced that this is not negotiation. This is imposition and Iran will not give in to imposition... Of course, I am not opposed either [to direct talks]…”
            “The Americans constantly send messages saying that they are sincere in their offers of rational negotiations. They claim that they sincerely want to have rational negotiations with Iran - that is to say, they claim that they do not want imposition. In response, I would say, we have told you many times that we are not after nuclear weapons and you say that you do not believe us. Why would we believe your statements? When you are not prepared to accept a rational and sincere statement, why would we accept your statements which have been disproved on many occasions?”
            “Our interpretation is that offers of negotiation are an American tactic to mislead public opinion in the world and in Iran. If this is not the case, the Americans should prove their sincerity with actions…”
            “At times, the Americans have claimed that certain individuals have negotiated with them on behalf of the Leader of Iran. But this is a downright lie and so far nobody has ever negotiated with America on behalf of the Leader…”
            “Over the years in different governments, certain individuals have negotiated with them over certain short-term issues and I was not opposed. However, this was done by different governments. Of course, they had a responsibility to observe the Leader's red lines and today they have the same responsibility and must observe the red lines…”
            “If the Americans truly want to resolve the nuclear issue with Iran, the solution is easy: they should acknowledge Iran's right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes… Past experiences and the existing conditions show that the Americans are not after resolving this issue and they want the nuclear issue to remain unresolved so that they have a pretext to pressure and ‘cripple' the Iranian nation. Of course, much to the dismay of the enemies, the Iranian nation will not be crippled…”
            “If the Americans sincerely want to put an end to the issues, the solution that we propose is that they should stop being hostile towards the Iranian nation in words and in action…” March 21, to pilgrims in Mashhad

U.S-Iran Relations
            “The main center for designing machinations against the Iranian nation is America and today after the passage of 34 years, whenever the word ‘enemy' is mentioned, the Iranian nation quickly thinks of America…”
            “American officials should think carefully about this issue and they should ask themselves why the Iranian nation quickly thinks of America whenever they hear the word ‘enemy'…”
            “Despite their claims of friendship with the Iranian nation, the Americans started imposing harsh and widespread oil and banking sanctions on Iran and they insist that they should not be considered enemies in spite of these hostile actions…”
            “In spite of these deceptive moves, they started a well-planned initiative and they expected that after a few months, the Iranian nation would give in to their bullying and put an end to its growing scientific activities. However, what happened was contrary to the will and predictions of the ill-wishers…”
            “We were never worried about your [U.S.] intentions of overthrowing the Islamic Republic because even when you had this intention and you would announce this openly, you could not do anything and you will not be able to do anything in the future either…” March 21, to pilgrims in Mashhad
Nuclear Issue
            “[W]e have told you [the United States] many times that we are not after nuclear weapons and you say that you do not believe us…”
            “If the Americans truly want to resolve the nuclear issue with Iran, the solution is easy: they should acknowledge Iran's right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes…”
            “The young Iranian scientists' move to produce twenty-percent enriched uranium to be used in the Tehran research reactor for the purpose of producing radiopharmaceuticals is one example of such intelligent proactive measures which should be adopted in the case of all essential issues of the country…” March 21, to pilgrims in Mashhad
Sanctions and the Economy
            “Of course, on the surface of the issue, the enemies were harsh, but below the surface was the experience of the Iranian nation and its victory in different arenas. Our enemies had targeted different areas, mainly economic and political. On the economic front, they announced and reiterated that they wanted to cripple the Iranian nation through sanctions. However, they failed to cripple the Iranian nation and by Allah's favor and grace, we achieved a lot of progress in different areas…”
            “On the economic front, of course the people were under pressure and certain problems were caused. In particular, there were certain flaws inside the country. There were certain cases of negligence and laxity which aided the enemy in his plans…”
            “On the economic front, it is necessary to pay attention to domestic production, just as had been stressed in last year's slogan. Of course, certain things were done, but promoting domestic production and supporting Iranian labor and capital is a long-term issue: it cannot reach the desired outcome in one year…” March 20, in a televised address for Nowruz
            “In this [economic] arena which is full of challenges, the Iranian nation has managed to turn threats into opportunities by relying on its intelligence, capacities and power. Just like a sporting champion, the Iranian nation has managed to emerge victorious out of a tough and tiring competition, making everybody praise it…”
            “The successes and achievements of the Iranian nation in this challenging arena are such that even perceptive political and academic elites in different countries, including the ill-wishers of Iran, have been forced to praise the Iranian nation…”
            “They have announced that their goal is to cripple the Iranian nation and to bring it to its knees. Therefore, if our nation resists their pressure, stays vibrant and achieves more advances, they will lose credibility…”
            “All these pressures and enmities, particularly the sanctions, have had great positive effects in addition to their negative effects. One the most important positive effects was that last year domestic capacities of the Iranian nation were activated and great achievements were made in areas relating to infrastructure…”
            “Discovering new sources of oil and uranium, building and developing power plants and refineries, adopting measures relating to infrastructure in the area of building roads and developing the energy sector, accomplishing important scientific and technological achievements … in a year in which the Iranian nation was supposed to be crippled by the sanctions…”
            “The great lesson that the achievements and victories of the year 1391 contain is that a vibrant nation will never be brought to its knees as a result of its enemy's sanctions, pressure and harsh measures…” March 21, to pilgrims in Mashhad
Oil Dependence
            “The sanctions have had an effect, but they have not had the effect that they were after… If the sanctions have been effective, it is because our economy is dependent on oil and for this reason, an economy that is free from oil should be among the main plans and priorities of the next government…”
            “Seventeen, eighteen years ago, I told the government of that time and its officials that they should act in a way that we could shut down our oil wells whenever we wanted to. The so-called ‘technocrats' smiled in disbelief and said it was not possible…”
            “Dependence of the country on oil, disregarding large-scale economic policies of the country and being tangled up in daily policies are among the weaknesses that our government officials - particularly officials of the next government - should pay attention to and they should know that the country must have large-scale economic policies that are clear, well-planned and well-organized…” March 21, in a speech in Mashhad

The June 2013 Presidential Election
            “Elections represent the power and political valor of the Islamic system, Iran's national willpower and the pride of the Islamic Republic…”
            “Massive and enthusiastic presence of the people in the elections, besides ensuring national security, will counter the enemies' threats and make them disappointed…”
            “The elections are not for a particular political current or orientation, rather all those who are committed to our national interests and independence of the country have a right and responsibility to take part in the elections…”
            “Turning away from the elections is appropriate for those who are opposed to the Islamic Republic… What is important is that you should exercise judgment and vote. You should do research, observe carefully and consult those you trust so that you can identify and vote for the most qualified candidate…”
            “Nobody should say that the Leader supports such and such a candidate and not another. If such a claim is made, it is false…”
            “The events of the year 1388 [2009] started when certain people decided not to accept the law and the votes of the people, and they called on their supporters to conduct street protests, which was an irreversible mistake…”
            “Fortunately we have the necessary legal mechanisms to eliminate the possible suspicions. Therefore, everybody should accept what the majority of the people decide through their votes…”
            “Any in-coming president should enjoy the advantages that his predecessors had and should not suffer from the weaknesses of the previous presidents…”
            “The governments that are elected one after the other should help us move towards improvement and perfection and we should gradually move towards electing the best among us…”
            “Those who enter the arena of presidential elections should be committed to our values and to the Islamic Revolution. They should be committed to our national interests and have faith in running the country on the basis of communal wisdom…” March 21, in a speech in Mashhad
            “Regarding political issues, the great event of the year 1392 is the presidential elections, which will in fact determine the executive and political destiny of the country - and in a sense, the general destiny of the country - for the next four years. God willing, the people will manage to build a good future for themselves and their country through their presence in this arena…” March 20, in a televised address for Nowruz
            “The usurping Zionist regime is too small to be considered among the first row of the enemies of the Iranian nation… If they make any such move [to attack], the Islamic Republic of Iran will raze Tel Aviv and Haifa to the ground…”
            “The powerful presence of Iran behind the scenes of the 8-day war on Gaza and the defeat that the Zionist regime suffered at the hands of Palestinian combatants and also the ill-wishers' acknowledgement that the regional issues cannot be resolved in the absence of Iran, caused the enmities to fail on these fronts…”March 21, in a speech in Mashhad

Britain, France and the International Community
            “Apart from America, which is the archenemy of Iran and the center of machinations, there are other enemies, including the evil English government, which does not enjoy independence and plays a complementary role as the follower of the American government…”
            "The Islamic Republic of Iran has not had problems with the French government and people, but the French government has adopted a policy of clear enmity towards to the Iranian nation in the recent years, particularly since the time of Sarkozy, and this wrong policy is still being pursued, which is unwise…”
            “The Americans constantly refer to these few enemies of the Iranian nation as ‘the global community'. This is while the global community is not at all determined to be hostile towards the Iranians and Islamic Iran…”
            “One of the measures that were adopted on the political front by the ill-wishers of the Iranian nation was their efforts to isolate the Islamic Republic. However, the summit of the Non-Aligned Movement in Tehran - which was attended by leaders and high-ranking officials of the Non-Aligned Movement, who praised Iran for its amazing scientific, technological and economic advances - foiled the enemies' plot…” March 21, in a speech in Mashhad
Click here for the full text of Khamenei’s March 21 speech.
Click here for the full text of Khamenei’s March 20 televised address.

Obama and Netanyahu Agree on Iran

            President Obama, on his first visit to Israel since taking office, warned that the time left to solve the Iranian nuclear issue “is not unlimited.” He said that the international community will increase pressure on the regime until it meets international obligations on its controversial nuclear program. Obama arrived in Israel on March 20 for a three day visit. The president told Israeli college students that a nuclear-armed Iran would raise the risk of nuclear terrorism, undermine the non-proliferation regime, spark a regional arms race, and “embolden a government that has shown no respect for the rights of its own people or the responsibilities of nations.”

            The president repeated his preference for a diplomatic solution. “Peace is far more preferable to war,” he told the students in Jerusalem. In a press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Obama claimed Iranians would especially benefit from a nuclear deal that could allow them to “break out of the isolation that has hampered their society and their economic development for many years.” The question is, “will Iranian leadership seize that opportunity?” according to the president.
            Obama reiterated that [a]ll options are on the table,” until Iran meets international obligations on its controversial nuclear program. Netanyahu argued that diplomacy and sanctions must be backed by a credible threat of military action. The president said he would not expect Israel’s prime minister to defer a security decision to another country. Each country "has to make its own decisions” on taking military action, Obama said during a joint press conference. Netanyahu agreed with the U.S. estimate that Iran would need about one year to build a nuclear bomb. The following are excerpts from remarks by President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu.
President Barack Obama
            “We agree that a nuclear-armed Iran would be a threat to the region, a threat to the world, and potentially an existential threat to Israel. And we agree on our goal. We do not have a policy of containment when it comes to a nuclear Iran. Our policy is to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.”
            “We prefer to resolve this diplomatically, and there’s still time to do so. Iran’s leaders must understand, however, that they have to meet their international obligations. And, meanwhile, the international community will continue to increase the pressure on the Iranian government. The United States will continue to consult closely with Israel on next steps. And I will repeat: All options are on the table. We will do what is necessary to prevent Iran from getting the world’s worst weapons…”
            “I think the only thing I would add is that our intelligence cooperation on this issue, the consultation between our militaries, our intelligence, is unprecedented, and there is not a lot of light, a lot of daylight between our countries’ assessments in terms of where Iran is right now.”
            “I think that what Bibi alluded to, which is absolutely correct, is each country has to make its own decisions when it comes to the awesome decision to engage in any kind of military action, and Israel is differently situated than the United States. And I would not expect that the Prime Minister would make a decision about his country’s security and defer that to any other country -- any more than the United States would defer our decisions about what was important for our national security.”
            “I have shared with Bibi, as I've said to the entire world, as I've said to the Iranian people and Iranian leaders, that I think there is time to resolve this issue diplomatically. The question is, will Iranian leadership seize that opportunity? Will they walk through that door?”
            “And it would be in everybody’s interests -- not just Israel’s interests, not just the United States’ interests -- it would be in the interest of the Iranian people if this gets resolved diplomatically. Because the truth of the matter is, is that the most permanent solution to the Iranian situation is ultimately going to be their decision that it is not worth it for them to pursue nuclear weapons. That will be the lasting change. If we can get that, that's good for everybody, including Iran, because it would allow them to break out of the isolation that has hampered their society and their economic development for many years.”
            “But I don't know whether they're going to be willing to take that step. And obviously, their past behavior indicates that, in the words of -- or a play on words on what Ronald Reagan said -- we can't even trust yet, much less verify. But we do have to test the proposition that this can be resolved diplomatically. And if it can't, then I’ve repeated to Bibi what I've said publicly, and that is, is that we will leave all options on the table in resolving it.” March 20, in a joint press conference with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
            “When I consider Israel’s security, I also think about a people who have a living memory of the Holocaust, faced with the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iranian government that has called for Israel’s destruction. It’s no wonder Israelis view this as an existential threat.  But this is not simply a challenge for Israel ― it is a danger for the entire world, including the United States. A nuclear-armed Iran would raise the risk of nuclear terrorism. It would undermine the non-proliferation regime. It would spark an arms race in a volatile region. And it would embolden a government that has shown no respect for the rights of its own people or the responsibilities of nations.”
            “That’s why America has built a coalition to increase the cost to Iran of failing to meet their obligations. The Iranian government is now under more pressure than ever before, and that pressure is increasing. It is isolated. Its economy is in dire straits.  Its leadership is divided.  And its position ― in the region, and the world ― has only grown weaker.”
            “I do believe that all of us have an interest in resolving this issue peacefully. Strong and principled diplomacy is the best way to ensure that the Iranian government forsakes nuclear weapons. Peace is far more preferable to war.  And the inevitable costs, the unintended consequences that would come with war means that we have to do everything we can to try to resolve this diplomatically. Because of the cooperation between our governments, we know that there remains time to pursue a diplomatic resolution. That’s what America will do, with clear eyes ― working with a world that’s united, and with the sense of urgency that’s required…”
            But Iran must know this time is not unlimited.  And I’ve made the position of the United States of America clear:  Iran must not get a nuclear weapon.  This is not a danger that can be contained, and as President, I’ve said all options are on the table for achieving our objectives.  America will do what we must to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.” March 21, in remarks to Israeli college students in Jerusalem 
            “I'm convinced that you will do whatever is necessary to free the world's horizons and the skies of Jerusalem from the Iranian threat. Iran denies the Shoah [Holocaust] and calls for a new one. Iran is building a nuclear bomb and denies it.  The Iranian regime is the greatest danger to world peace. History has shown time and again that peace, prosperity and stable civil society cannot flourish when threats and belligerency abound…”
            “Ladies and gentlemen, tonight the Iranian people are celebrating their New Year.  I wish them from the depths of my heart a happy holiday and a real freedom…” March 21, at a state dinner with Israeli officials 
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
            “We had an opportunity today to begin discussing the wide range of issues that are critical to both our countries. And foremost among these is Iran’s relentless pursuit of nuclear weapons. Mr. President, you have made it clear that you are determined to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. I appreciate your forthright position on this point. I also appreciate that you have noted -- that you have acted to thwart the threat both through determined diplomacy and strong sanctions that are getting stronger yet.”
            “Notwithstanding our joint efforts and your great success in mobilizing the international community, diplomacy and sanctions so far have not stopped Iran’s nuclear program. And as you know, my view is that in order to stop Iran’s nuclear programs peacefully, diplomacy and sanctions must be augmented by a clear and credible threat of military action....”
            “I'm absolutely convinced that the President is determined to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons. And I appreciate that. And I also appreciate something that he said, which I mentioned in my opening remarks, that the Jewish people have come back to their own country to be the masters of their own fate. And I appreciate the fact that the President has reaffirmed -- more than any other President -- Israel’s right and duty to defend itself, by itself, against any threat. We just heard those important words now, and I think that sums up our -- I would say -- our common view.”
            “Iran is a grave threat to Israel, a grave threat to the world -- a nuclear Iran. The United States is committed to deal with it. Israel is committed to deal with it. We have different vulnerabilities, obviously, and different capabilities. We take that into account. But what we do maintain -- and the President I think is the first to do so -- is that Israel has a right to independently defend itself against any threat, including the Iranian threat…”
            “I think that there's a misunderstanding about time. If Iran decides to go for a nuclear weapon -- that is, to actually manufacture the weapon -- then it probably -- then it would take them about a year. I think that's correct. They could defer that a long time but still get through the enrichment process -- that is, to make a weapon you need two things; you need enriched uranium of a critical amount and then you need a weapon. You can't have the weapon without the enriched uranium, but you can have the enriched uranium without the weapon.”
            “Iran right now is enriching uranium. It’s pursuing it. It hasn’t yet reached the red line that I had described in my speech at the U.N. -- they're getting closer, though.”
            “And the question of manufacturing the weapon is a different thing. The President said correctly that we have -- on these issues that are a little arcane, they sound a little detailed to you -- but on these matters we share information and we have a common assessment. We have a common assessment.”
            “In any case, Iran gets to an immunity zone when they get through the enrichment process, in our view -- in our view -- and whatever time is left, there's not a lot of time. And every day that passes diminishes it. But we do have a common assessment. On the schedules, on intelligence, we share that intelligence and we don't have any argument about it. I think it's important to state that clearly.” March 20, in a joint press conference with President Obama
Click here for transcripts of Obama’s remarks in Israel.

Kerry’s Iran Connection on Nowruz

            On March 20, Secretary of State John Kerry sent “warm wishes for health and prosperity” to Iranians for Nowruz, the Persian New Year. He noted the contributions of Iranian-Americans and Iranian students in the United States. “I am proud of the Iranian-Americans in my own family,” he said in a reference to his son-in-law Behrouz (Brian) Vala Nahed. The neurosurgeon married Kerry’s daughter Vanessa, also a physician, in 2009. The secretary said the United States wants to build more people-to-people ties to promote "greater understanding, peace, and progress."

            Kerry also emphasized that the United States is committed to resolving differences with Iran over its controversial nuclear program. “We sincerely hope Iran’s leaders choose to fulfill their obligations to not only the international community but also to their people…” The following is the full text of the press statement.
Message to the Iranian People on Nowruz
            It’s a privilege to join President Obama in sending warm wishes for health and prosperity to the people of Iran and all those who celebrate Nowruz around the world.
            As you gather with your loved ones around the Sofreh Haft-Seen, we are proud to note that many Americans will join you in celebrating Nowruz.  This year, we are once again reminded of the outstanding contributions of Iranian-Americans and Iranian students here in the United States, which reflect the rich history of your culture. I am proud of the Iranian-Americans in my own family, and grateful for how they have enriched my life.
            Despite the difficult history of the last decades between the United States and Iran, there is an opportunity to work diplomatically to reduce tensions and address the mistrust between our two countries, to the mutual benefit of both of our people. As President Obama has said, we are strongly committed to resolving the differences between Iran and the United States, and continuing to work toward a new day in our relationship. We sincerely hope Iran’s leaders choose to fulfill their obligations to not only the international community but also to their people so that Iran can begin to take its proper place in the community of nations, and the Iranian people can have access to the same opportunities and freedoms enjoyed by others around the world.
            Just last month, Americans and Iranians came together to demonstrate outstanding sportsmanship and camaraderie on the wrestling mats in Tehran. On this Nowruz, we would like to reaffirm our desire to continue building strong people-to-people ties to promote greater understanding, peace, and progress.
            May this New Year be filled with a renewed sense of hope and a new commitment to peace and fundamental freedoms. On behalf of the United States, we extend our best wishes for a joyous and prosperous New Year.  Nowruzetoon Mobarak!  
Click here for a Farsi translation.

U.S. General: Iran’s Influence Waning in Latin America

            Iran is “struggling to main influence” in Latin America, General John Kelly told the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 19. The region as a whole has not been receptive to Iran’s diplomatic and economic outreach. But the head of U.S. Southern Command warned that “limited intelligence capabilities” may not provide a full picture of all Iranian activities in Latin America.
            Iran’s proxy, the militant organization Hezbollah, has established a presence in Latin America, the general noted. General Kelly estimated that the Lebanese Shiite diaspora could generate up to “tens of millions of dollars” for Hezbollah through licit and illicit means. During a Pentagon news briefing on March 20, he advised U.S. allies in the region to deal cautiously with Iranians claiming to be journalists or peace workers ― who oftentimes are not “what they appear to be.” The following are excerpts from Kelly’s remarks to the Senate Armed Services Committee and the press.
Iran in the Western Hemisphere
            … The reality on the ground is that Iran is struggling to maintain influence in the region, and that its efforts to cooperate with a small set of countries with interests that are inimical to the United States are waning. In an attempt to evade international sanctions and cultivate anti-U.S. sentiment, the Iranian regime has increased its diplomatic and economic outreach across the region with nations like Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Argentina. This outreach has only been marginally successful, however, and the region as a whole has not been receptive to Iranian efforts.
            Members and supporters of Iran’s partner, Lebanese Hezbollah, have an established presence in several countries in the region. The Lebanese Shi’a diaspora in our area of responsibility may generate as much as tens of millions of dollars for Hezbollah through both licit and illicit means. There is also precedent for Iranian and Hezbollah collusion to conduct attacks in the region, as evidenced in the 1992 and 1994 bombings in Argentina. In Venezuela, government officials have been sanctioned for providing financial support to Hezbollah, and for providing support to the FARC’s narcotics and arms trafficking activities in Colombia. We take Iranian activities very seriously and, along with U.S. government agencies and international partners, we remain vigilant to the activities of Iran and affiliated extremist groups and remain prepared to work with our partners to counter any direct threat to U.S. national security. I would be remiss, however, if I did not share with the Congress my assessment that U.S. Southern Command’s limited intelligence capabilities may prevent our full awareness of all Iranian and Hezbollah activities in the region.
Click here for the full text.
Pentagon News Briefing
GEN. KELLY: “…[T]he last  five or six years there's been an increase in their establishment of embassies, you know, normal, you know, kind of country team embassies in Latin America, cultural centers too, and, you know, as -- as you probably know, there's a fair number of -- of Muslims that live in -- they're clustered in various places in -- in Latin America, but, you know, embassies, cultural centers. So all of that's above board. And -- and if that's what they want to do -- they don't -- they're not getting much traction by the way in terms of influence, although there are some Latin American countries that I won't go into that are -- that are concerned because they -- they -- although they haven't got much traction in certain places, they're getting traction in other places. 
The concern is that, you know, certainly they're looking, I would guess, for influence say for votes in the U.N. on sanctions or whatever, try to -- to warm up to people and gain friends. I mean, that's certainly the way international politics works. But also, and I've warned some of the -- made mention to some of our friends in -- in the region that these guys are very, very good at what they do, and very, very skilled at what they do, and that people should just be careful as to who they're dealing with, whether they claim to be an Iranian journalist or an Iranian, you know, peace worker or something, just -- just to be careful because these oftentimes are not what they -- what they appear to be or they're stated that they're -- what they're doing in their country…
QUESTION: What's your main concern? I mean, do you think these activities are -- could be related to terrorism, for example? 
GEN. KELLY: Yes. Not -- not accusing them of that, but that's kind of the business they're in in many parts of the world, we think. We do know that some terrorist organizations are able to skim -- skim off fairly substantial sums of money from the drug profits that come out of America. And so there has to be kind of a network for that to happen. 
So, that's kind of what we're looking at, but nothing to, you know, in a sense, nothing to be too concerned about right now, but -- but, you know, they're establishing an above-board network and I'll leave it go at that -- an above-board network of interaction with many countries in Latin America…
QUESTION: And as far as where this is all going, I mean, looking down the road, 10, 20 years, is the greatest -- one of the great fears that terrorists will use this, quote/unquote, "highway" to get into the United States? I mean, to go up through Africa and to Europe? 
GEN. KELLY: Yes. I mean, it's a very effective... 
QUESTION: Evidence, or, yes, that's sort of the fear? 

GEN. KELLY: I think the only evidence would be the -- the Iranian agent that was picked up by our guys on the way here to D.C. to kill the ambassador…
I would just say again the Iranians are very, very, very good at what they do. And you have to be very careful when you deal with them.
Click here for the full transcript.

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