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‘TOUR OF TYRANTS’

The chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee is warning that Iran will try to expand its influence in Latin America with the Iranian president’s visit to communist and socialist nations in the region next month.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is calling President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s trip to Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Venezuela a “tour of tyrants.”

“Iran has been actively working for years to expand its ties and influences in the Western Hemisphere, and it has found willing partners in the region’s anti-American despots,” the Florida Republican said this week.

She warned that Iranian activity in the Caribbean and in Central and South America “threatens regional security and stability.”

Mr. Ahmadinejad will begin his trip in the second week of January with a visit to Venezuela, where President Hugo Chavez is fighting cancer, the Iranian government announced Wednesday.

The Iranian leader next will attend the inauguration of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, whose re-election was criticized by independent election observers as deeply flawed.

He will finish his four-day trip with stops in communist Cuba to visit President Raul Castro and in Ecuador, where socialist President Rafael Correa has launched a “new era of widespread repression,” according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

“The partnerships between the Iranian regime and the Castro, Chavez, Ortega and Correa dictatorships include defense cooperation and economic pacts and various other schemes designed to increase their power and harm America,” Mrs. Ros-Lehtinen said.

Mrs. Ros-Lehtinen noted that Mr. Ahmadinejad will visit as Congress considers additional sanctions on Iran to stop it from building a nuclear weapon.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297 or email jmorrison@washingtontimes.com. The column is published on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.