U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says the Obama administration is working to improve relations with Latin American leaders, in part, to counter the growing influence of China, Iran and Russia. Clinton says it is not in U.S. interests to shun countries in its own hemisphere.
At a town hall meeting Friday at the State Department, Secretary Clinton said the Bush administration's attempts to isolate anti-U.S. leaders only made them more opposed to the United States. "From my perspective the prior administration tried to isolate them, tried to support opposition to them, tried to turn them into international pariahs. It did not work," she said.
Clinton said the United States can no longer afford such an approach, especially when competing for influence with countries like Russia, China and Iran. "If you look at gains, particularly in Latin America, that Iran is making and China is making, it is quite disturbing. They are building very strong economic and political connections with a lot of these leaders. I do not think that is in our interests," she said.
U.S officials have accused Iran of subversive activity in Latin America, calling newly opened Iranian offices in the region "fronts" for interfering in local affairs.
Both Iran and China have been boosting their cooperation with Latin American nations in financial and other areas. Venezuela has been at the heart of their efforts, with President Hugo Chavez making official visits to both Tehran and Beijing earlier this year. Venezuela has also been cooperating with Russia on naval exercises and other agreements.
Secretary Clinton said the United States is now trying to improve its own relationships with Mr. Chavez and other leaders to counter Iran, China and Russia.
Clinton said she is working on getting U.S. envoys back into Venezuela and Bolivia, which expelled U.S. ambassadors last year after Bolivian President Evo Morales accused the top U.S. diplomat in his country of helping the opposition incite violence
Clinton said she also wants to improve relations with Ecuador, as well as Nicaragua, where she said Iran is building an embassy. On Cuba, she indicated a desire to make changes, but only if the Castro brothers are willing to reciprocate.
Secretary Clinton said the Obama administration has "no illusions" about making progress with leaders who have different views, but that pursuing better relationships is worth a try.