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Source: NY Times

Apr 13, 2023

Iran and Nicaragua Discussed Military Cooperation, Leaked Report Says

The two countries had found common ground in opposing “perceived U.S. efforts to expand influence in Latin America,” according to an intelligence update based on C.I.A. intercepts.

By Vivian Yee

Iran and Nicaragua held discussions in February about bolstering their military cooperation as a way of countering American influence in Latin America, according to an intelligence update contained in a cache of leaked documents that appears to be based on electronic intercepts gathered by the C.I.A.

A trip by an Iranian delegation to Nicaragua that month was no secret. Both the Nicaraguan and Iranian authorities trumpeted the visit, though their announcements were vague on details, focused generally on trade and did not mention any talks about military cooperation.

But the intelligence report, dated Feb. 23, notes that the delegation, led by Iran’s foreign minister, Hossein Amir Abdollahian, had met with senior Nicaraguan Army commanders. According to the report, the commanders told Mr. Amir Abdollahian that Nicaragua opposed “perceived U.S. efforts to expand influence in Latin America and expressed a willingness to engage with Tehran and other like-minded countries.”

The paragraph-long intelligence update was included in a series of leaked images that were posted on a Discord server, and provided to The New York Times. American officials, though acknowledging that documents in an earlier series of leaked documents posted on the same server were authentic, warned that some had been altered, while others were outdated or inaccurate.

The Times described the new batch of documents to multiple U.S. officials, who neither disputed the information nor confirmed that they were authentic.

Iran has long sought to shore up relationships with Latin American countries, in particular those that it considers outside the U.S. sphere of influence, as Tehran looks to break out of the international isolation imposed on it by Washington and its Western allies. Iran has signed a raft of trade agreements and promised other investments with countries in the region over the past two decades, although, limited by Tehran’s own economic struggles, it has a mixed record of following through.

Iran said that Mr. Amir Abdollahian had discussed economic, trade and energy cooperation during his trip to Nicaragua, but did not mention any sit-downs with military figures. But the official announcement made no secret of the fact that the two countries’ shared grudges against the United States were powering the bilateral relationship.

The Biden administration has imposed sanctions on the government and family of President Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua in recent years as the country’s slide into autocracy has brought repression of his opponents in civil society, the church and the news media.

Both Nicaragua and Iran had revolutions in 1979. That year, Iranians overthrew the American-backed shah in what came to be known as the Islamic Revolution, taking 52 American hostages in the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in the process. It was also the year that Nicaragua’s revolutionary Sandinista movement overthrew the country’s president, a key U.S. ally in the region.

According to the Iranian state-run news agency IRNA, Mr. Ortega, who was a member of the Sandinista movement, met with Mr. Amir Abdollahian during the February visit and noted that their two countries “had a common enemy” whom they had each fought in the same year and whom they had each succeeded in defeating.

Mr. Amir Abdollahian, IRNA reported, said that Nicaragua’s name connoted “independence and freedom-seeking in the minds of the Iranians, because Nicaragua has stood and is standing against imperialism.”Mr. Ortega’s son, Laureano Ortega, who manages Nicaragua’s most important foreign relationships and diplomatic agreements, had welcomed Mr. Amir Abdollahian with a message of friendship, according to El 19, a newspaper with links to the Nicaraguan government.

“We are countries with sister revolutions that defend our right to choose our own path to development and prosperity,” Laureano Ortega was quoted as saying. He also noted that, in the past year, “we had important Iranian delegations here in our country and we also had Nicaraguan delegations visit Iran.”

Vivian Yee is the Cairo bureau chief, covering politics, society and culture in the Middle East and North Africa. She was previously based in Beirut, Lebanon, and in New York, where she wrote about New York City, New York politics and immigration.

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