WASHINGTON, Feb. 3 (UPI) -- Iranian efforts to from strong relationships with Latin American leaders are a threat to U.S. interests, a U.S. House leader said.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad met with Venezuelan, Ecuadorian and Cuban leaders during a tour of Latin American last month. During his tour, he said the region would no longer be considered the "back yard" of the United States.
U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., chairwoman of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee, said she wanted to hear testimony from experts on Iranian affairs about the potential threat of Tehran's ambitions in the region.
She described Ahmadinejad's trip as a "tour of tyrants" adding, in a statement, that it "illustrates his commitment to deepening those ties and expanding the Iranian threat closer to our shores."
U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said during congressional testimony this week that Iran's top leaders are working to "penetrate and engage in this hemisphere."
The United States and its European allies have tightened economic sanctions on Iran out of concern the Islamic republic is working on technology needed to produce a nuclear weapon. Tehran maintains its intentions are peaceful.
Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei was quoted by his Web site as saying Friday that Washington "has no logic but coercion and no option but bloodshed to advance its agenda."