Iran: What's it up to?
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in Caracas on Monday.
January 9th, 2012
08:12 PM ET

Iran: What's it up to?

By Jill Dougherty

Just what is Tehran up to?

It sentences an Iranian-American to death for alleged spying.

Announces it's begun enriching uranium at a heavily fortified underground facility.

Threatens to close the Strait of Hormuz, sending shivers down the spine of world oil markets.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad jets off to Latin America, visiting countries that love to take pot shots at the United States.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland calls Iran "desperate," dismissing the trip as "flailing find new friends."

But some Iran-watchers are worried that desperation could cause Iran to make dangerous, unpredictable moves.

Karim Sadjapour with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace tells CNN "there's a Persian saying that, when you have wild cat trapped in room, leave the door open to let it out."

"Iran is cornered," he says.

Tehran is hurting, hit by stiff economic sanctions aimed at forcing it to "come clean," as Obama administration officials put it, on its nuclear program. The U.S. has imposed sanctions on banks that deal with Iran's Central Bank, and the European Union is close to imposing an embargo on Iranian oil exports.

Some U.S. lawmakers want the noose tightened even more. The chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, says, "The Iranian threat is entering a new, even more dangerous stage."

Pointing to Iran's threats to close the Strait of Hormuz and to ratchet up its uranium enrichment, Ros-Lehtinen is calling for "immediate, comprehensive, crippling sanctions on the regime."

"An Iran with a nuclear breakout capability is an Iran with a nuclear weapon. We cannot delude ourselves into thinking we have time to spare."

Internally, the Iranian regime is under severe pressure. Inflation is surging. The deputy economy minister says inflation could reach 22% by the end of March. The Financial Times reports that official unemployment for those under 25 is 29.1 % but experts believe it could be double that.

The country holds parliamentary elections March 2 and, fearful of destabilization, the government is tightening surveillance of its Internet users.

Sadjapour warns that instability could have devastating consequences. There is "legitimate concern," he says, "that the hardliners in Tehran are purposely trying to provoke some type of a U.S. or Israeli attack on Iran in order to repair Iran's deep internal fissures, both between a disgruntled population against the regime and amongst Iran's political elites themselves."

Sadjapour calls that a "trap" that the United States and Israel "should be very careful about walking into."

Although Ahmadinejad's Latin American swing through Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba and Ecuador is making headlines, several Iran experts downplay its impact. They note that the Iranian president is not visiting the region's heavyweights, Brazil and Argentina.

"I think this is for domestic consumption in his own country," Julia Sweig of the Council on Foreign Relations, tells CNN, "to show that he is not isolated, despite sanctions, and despite U.N. resolutions. In Latin America, generally, he doesn't really have much of a political base."

Stephen Johnson, director of the Americas Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, calls the trip an "opportunity to shore up solidarity."

"The current leaders of Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba, and Ecuador," he writes, "have little but praise for the Iranian leader and share the Islamic Republic's objective of offsetting the influence of the United States on the world stage. They will likely continue to offer a platform to criticize Western ideas of democracy and free markets, both in meetings and as a base for Iran's hemispheric public diplomacy efforts."

A key figure is Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Johnson says. Chavez has helped Iran evade sanctions on banking and industries that support its military. "In private, Chavez could offer to help Iran sidestep the latest sanctions against its banks and oil exports," Johnson says.

The countries Ahmadinejad is visiting aren't doing it just to help him, Johnson says; they're also hoping for more aid from Tehran.

For Cuba, for example, Iran has supplied credit and loaned funds for transportation infrastructure improvements. Nicaragua got promises of money for a hospital, hydroelectric projects, and a dry canal between the Pacific and Atlantic coasts.

"In Venezuela," Johnson says, "it has gone much further, rehabilitating an old tractor plant, establishing a car factory, and constructing subsidized housing."

Have all these projects been carried out? That's not clear, Johnson says, but Iran's president is likely to bring more promises to his Latin American friends. And, caught in the stranglehold of tighter world pressure, Ahmadinejad needs all the friends he can get.

CNN's Jamie Crawford contributed to this story.

soundoff (1,221 Responses)
  1. Mark McCracken

    I fore see another war that will not last but for a very short period of time. As to the possible threat of world destruction that we or anybody ( for that matter) can afford. Just like everyone in this world we need each other to exist..

    January 13, 2012 at 9:41 am | Reply
  2. joe d


    January 12, 2012 at 2:56 pm | Reply
    • Sanchanim

      So in other words you have no idea what the US has done for Israel which has not served their own interests in some way.

      January 12, 2012 at 3:01 pm | Reply
  3. ranger 830

    Dumb and dumber!!!!!!!! The world is getting smaller every day. A new world is emerging! These gentlemen are the last of a dead and bygone era who are desperatly trying to hold on to what they have left !!!!!! They are on the endangered species list and they know it!!!!!!!

    January 12, 2012 at 12:17 pm | Reply
    • Sanchanim

      Really it is a Muslim issue, with the implementation of Sharia law. They are stuck in the 14th century. There have been quite a few Muslim scholars and journalist who have written on the subject, but in essence your comment is very correct.

      January 12, 2012 at 1:56 pm | Reply
  4. joe d

    your kiddin right? It's the war mongering neocons and the U.S. dependant sraeli/jews who are desparate..desparate to see evey last American man, woman and child die for the failed experimant called Israel...the only Presidential hopeful that will not throw 300 million Americans under the bus for 6 million jews in Israel is....


    January 12, 2012 at 11:08 am | Reply
    • tammy l

      chalk up another ignorant, backwood hillbilly reply to the US problems. Its everyone else's fault you bigoted, half brained trogladite.

      January 12, 2012 at 12:55 pm | Reply
      • joe d

        I will take that over being an anti-american little backstabbing whore for the turd stain called israel anyday..
        ...troglidite vs backstabbing blood sucking leech who can't stand on it's own. by comparison..I take that as a compliment

        now you may pack your bagels and leave the U.S.

        January 12, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
      • Sanchanim

        I have served in two military's, and if you recognize my screen name you will know where I served.
        I will try to use small words so you understand, or at least as small as my college educated mind will allow.
        First, your statement is filled with hatred and ineptitude.
        What Iran is doing could have an effect on the whole world. If materials or a nuclear warhead were to be sold or given to a terrorist group. They would just love to set one off in NYC, or some other major city. Israel might be affected if either a terrorist group manages to infiltrate on foot a device, dirty bomb or other but that is not setting US policy.
        Having lived abroad and seen first hand I can say most Israelis are more patriotic about the US than it's own citizens. It is a sad commentary, but as your post shows many folks such as yourself have taken a isolationist view about how to conduct policy in the US. This is a big mistake as what happens outside the US affects everyone. From the Flooding in Thailand to Japan, unrest in the middle east, it all has an effect on our economy.
        A good example using Thailand is hard drives for your computer are pretty hard to come by. Orders are taking longer and the price has gone up considerably. Your local Best Buy might not reflect this at the moment but I work in the technology sector and it is hitting everyone at this point.
        The fact of the matter is both Israel and the US are watching Iran's activities closely. At some point if their path does not change more drastic action will need to take place.
        Israel has done a lot for the US. Much might be self serving as well, but they have taken care of a lot of dirty business that the US can't or won't do on their own. Israel is a strategic point for the middle east and the US will stand by them. Yes even Ron Paul.
        If you haven't figured it out by now, politicians say lots of things on the campain trail, then once they get into office and see how things are run they do a 180. Pick any president from any side of the isle. I bet you can find some statement somewhere for all of them where they did a 180.

        January 12, 2012 at 1:47 pm |
      • joe d

        any....where did i blame "everyone else".. I did not know zionist jews and low-life neocons were "everyone else".. dooshbag

        January 12, 2012 at 1:48 pm |
      • Sanchanim

        Dang he can't even spell Tammy right lmao..

        January 12, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
      • joe d

        the only military you seved in was the IDF...please name one thing israel has done for the U.S. that did not benifit from...
        crickets chirping...dude you are a phony and no american....

        AIPAC/Israel and the idiots that support them = 9/11

        January 12, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
      • Sanchanim

        I was semper fi too.
        I never said Israel did everything for the US without their own benefit being involved.
        Let's see there was the hit in Dubai, on a known terrorist, oh yeah how about all those car bombs in Iran? I seriously don't think those work accidents are work related do you?
        How about the Stuxnet and Duqu worms. Israel has produced some of the brightest and best in technology over the years. I am of course basing this off of successful IPO's and company buy out by larger corporations, like Microsoft, Cisco, Applied Materials.
        I am not a phony and a US citizen by birth and it is where I have resided for the past decade. I grew up here and was fortunate enough to have great parents who taught me to think for myself.
        I form my own opinions about things based on observations and my own upbringing.

        January 12, 2012 at 2:33 pm |
      • Sanchanim

        Also please tell me what the US has done for Israel which hasn't in some way benefited their own interests in some way.
        Really I want to know...
        It is a scratch my back I scratch your world out there.
        "Ass, Grass, or Cash, nobody rides for free!"

        January 12, 2012 at 2:36 pm |
      • joe d

        like i said you are porobably an IDF poster..what has the U.S. doen for Israel? are you serious?...This is what Americans are getting sick of and that's why Ron PAul will be in your face till the end of the elections. The sleeping giant has awaknend and there is nothing you israel first anti-Americans can do to stop him..Americans are sick of the neo-con/jew first agenda..the warmongers are toast..Active dudy soilders and their families donate more to Dr. Paul then all other GOP candidates combined..enough closed


        January 12, 2012 at 2:55 pm |
      • DeTamble

        *** IRANIAN TROLL ALERT ***

        joe d

        I will take that over being an anti-american little backstabbing whore for the turd stain called israel anyday..
        ...troglidite vs backstabbing blood sucking leech who can't stand on it's own. by comparison..I take that as a compliment

        now you may pack your bagels and leave the U.S.

        January 13, 2012 at 7:59 am |
      • Mantan

        The Obama administration is just a part, albiet an integral part, of dismantling the balance of power in the Middle East. If Israel is attacked and the U.N. stands against her, that will give Obama cover to side w/the Palestinians. I say "Palestinians" but I believe that, too, is a cover so that the American people, influenced by heavy Obama administration propaganda through the mouthpiece of the "mainstream" media, begin to perceive the Palestinian people as victims. In my opinion they ARE victims; victims of Hamas and Hezbollah, who are funded by the Iranians who are funded by Russia, China, the Saudis and who knows who else. The key is that Israel is going to have its proverbial back slammed against a wall and it will be provoked either into war and/or into a false "peace" treaty. Either way, they are extremely vulnerable. Obama and his backers will come out of this w/o any measurable political scars because he is part of the global power structure which seeks to assert itself as THE global power structure, i.e. GLOBALIZED, CENTRALIZED POWER whose locus resides in the hands of a very few ideologically elite; think international banking cartels, global foundations who are funded by (perhaps) the IMF and monies from entities who all want this scenario to play itself out on the global stage. Americans need to understand that what is going on here is the U.S. is mostly manufactured by an administration whose intent is not in the best interests of America but in the attainment of an almighty global structure of world dominance and control.

        March 3, 2012 at 10:00 am |
    • DeTamble

      Planet Earth is a large corporation.
      Individual countries are just different departments.
      When a department goes rogue, it will be dealt with.
      One planet.
      One Earth.

      January 13, 2012 at 8:06 am | Reply
  5. pstandoff

    Last November the US Air Force received 8 out of the 20 ordered 30000lb massive ordinance penetrator bombs (MOB) specifically designed to destroy deep underground bunkers. Wonder what they are for? Did anyone else notice that at the same time Ahmadinejad 's good buddy and American loving Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez recalled all his country’s foreign bullion reserves from Western banks? Historically why do countries normally do this? Hmmm

    January 12, 2012 at 5:52 am | Reply
  6. bara

    hopefully Iran will learn it's not all about nuclear you hear me.

    January 11, 2012 at 7:50 pm | Reply
  7. Josh B.

    Hopefully Iran will take a peaceful stance in the Middle east.

    January 11, 2012 at 5:55 pm | Reply
    • Jon

      Is that you Blahuta?

      January 12, 2012 at 8:56 am | Reply
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