Shadow Government

Iran's man in Ecuador

Last October, Ambassador Roger Noriega, former Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere during the George W. Bush Administration, exposed Hugo Chávez's efforts to aid and abet Iran's illegal nuclear weapons program, including its efforts to obtain strategic minerals such as uranium and to evade international sanctions.

Documentary evidence now suggests that Hugo Chavez's junior partner in Ecuador, Rafael Correa, is apparently forging his own dangerous alliance with the Mahmoud Ahmadinejad regime, raising troubling questions about whether Iran continues to expand its global efforts to obtain uranium and other strategic minerals that are critical to Teheran's rogue nuclear program.

According to sensitive official documents provided to me by  knowledgeable sources in Ecuador and other countries and published here for the first time, Iran and Ecuador have concluded a $30 million deal to conduct joint mining projects in Ecuador that appears to lay the groundwork for future extractive activities. The deal, which was apparently finalized in December 2009, "expresses the interest of the President of the Republic [of Ecuador] and the Ministry of Mines and Petroleum to boost closer and mutually beneficial relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran on a variety of fronts, among them mining and geology."

The deal calls for the establishment of a jointly run Chemical-Geotechnical-Metallurgical Research Center in Ecuador [Laboratorio Químico-Geotécnico-Metalurgico] and "to jointly implement a comprehensive study and topographic and cartographic analysis of [Ecuadorean territory]."

What is most concerning about developing Ecuadorean-Iranian ties in the mining sector is that, like Venezuela, Ecuador is known to possess deposits of uranium. In August 2009, Russia and Ecuador signed a nuclear agreement that included joint geological research and development of uranium fields, as well as building nuclear power plants and research reactors. In March 2009, the International Atomic Energy Agency also unveiled plans to help Ecuador explore for uranium and study the possibility of developing nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. 

Granted, Ecuador's mining agreements with Iran make no mention of uranium, or any other mineral, and Ecuador has the same right as most nations to develop nuclear energy or harvest uranium. But doing so in a way that consciously aids Iran's illegal program puts it on the wrong side of international restrictions. United Nations sanctions expressly prohibit Iranian investment in activities such as uranium mining and ban Iran from pursuing "any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons."

This is not the first time the Correa government's shadowy deals with Iran have been exposed to public scrutiny. In a December 2008 deal, the Export Development Bank of Iran (EBDI)  offered to deposit $120 million in the Ecuadorean Central Bank to fund bilateral trade. EDBI, however, was sanctioned in October 2008 by the U.S. Treasury Department for helping to finance Iran's weapons of mass destruction programs.  

As a result, in February 2010, the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force (FATF), a multilateral organization that combats money laundering and terrorist financing, placed Ecuador on a list of countries that failed to comply with its regulations. In another high profile case, the country's top trade official and a close Correa advisor, Galo Borja, was forced to resign after it was revealed his private mining and export company was doing brisk business with Iran, a flagrant violation of conflict-of-interest laws.  

The U.S. government obviously is aware of Iran's provocative activities in our own neighborhood. As far back as 2006, according to a U.S. diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks, State Department officers were asking all the right questions about Venezuela's uranium riches.  Unfortunately, U.S. diplomats either have failed to monitor Iran's suspect mining activities in the Western Hemisphere or have failed to connect the dots about the dangerous game being played by Iran and co-conspirators in Venezuela and Ecuador.

President Obama has an excellent opportunity to turn this situation around and raise the issue of Iranian activities in Ecuador and Venezuela when he visits the region next month. In stops in the capitals of two regional heavyweights, Brazil, and Chile, he should privately press both countries to be more engaged in understanding and responding to the dangers to regional and international security of the escalating Iranian presence in our neighborhood. The president should also take the case to Latin American audiences that no good can come from collaboration with Iran and they risk immersing their countries in international disputes of the highest order in which they have absolutely no interest. 

If the administration fails to act on its own accord, the U.S. Congress must press for more effective measures to investigate whether Iran, Venezuela, Ecuador, and any other nation may be violating United Nations sanctions. Presidents Correa and Hugo Chávez are knee-jerk enemies of the United States. However, if their actions are found to constitute a threat to international peace and security, they must be made to pay the price.  


Shadow Government

Not everyone was wrong on Egypt

Peter Feaver is right that many voices got things wrong on Egypt at multiple points over the last couple of weeks -- especially (now former) President Mubarak himself. But this doesn't mean that everyone has been wrong. As Jackson Diehl and others have pointed out, the bipartisan Working Group on Egypt has for the past year warned repeatedly, in public and in private, and with specific policy prescriptions, of the fragility of Mubarak's rule. Moreover the Working Group stressed the urgent need for the United States to wean ourselves from exclusive reliance on Mubarak and instead extend diplomatic and material support to democracy reformers in Egypt. As I have noted before, the White House should have seen this coming.

The United States has lost significant ground in Egypt over the past few weeks, by repeatedly failing to get out in front with a clear, united, and public message of support for democracy and against Mubarak's continued misrule. This amounts to a missed opportunity by President Obama to assure the Tahrir Square protestors of U.S. support, and of the entire administration to extend crucial economic and diplomatic support for Egyptian democracy activists over the last two years. As Jake Tapper and Glenn Kessler documented, the Obama Administration's record on this count is a failure, most crucially in its drastic budget cuts and abdication of the Bush administration's policy of providing support directly to democratic opposition groups.

In the midst of today's exuberance over Mubarak's departure, as the White House wrestled with what to say and do next, it should realize that just as important as specific statements and policies will be demonstrating to the people of Egypt, that the United States will partner with them in creating a better future for themselves. President Obama's eloquent statement today struck all the right notes, but he has offered the right words on behalf of democracy before -- it is the deeds that have been wanting.  

Specifically, this means holding the Egyptian military accountable for ruling temporarily while staying committed to a specific timetable for nationwide elections, and offering full-fledged diplomatic and economic support for Egypt's beleaguered political parties in preparation for the elections. It will also mean renewed efforts on behalf of legal protections for civil liberties like freedom of speech and freedom of religion -- which also serve as institutional bulwarks against the undemocratic inclinations of the Muslim Brotherhood. A new poll by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy offers  encouraging findings that only 15 percent of Egyptians approve of the Brotherhood, and only 12 percent want sharia law. Egyptian soil is fertile for the growth of democracy.

What might this mean in history? It is impossible to say. But as I note today over at ConservativeHomeUSA, Feb. 11 also marks the anniversary of the Iranian Revolution of 1979, which unleashed many of the maladies that afflict the Middle East today. It is a telling contrast between the two revolutions that Iran today arrested more opposition leaders and blocked media reporting on Egyptians dancing to their freedom in the streets. We can hope that Egypt's revolution will give a new meaning to Feb. 11. Yet hope is not a policy, as the saying goes, and so the administration should be working now to craft a bold policy that bolsters democracy in Egypt, and helps the Egyptian people turn Feb. 11 into a notable date on the calendar of liberty.  

Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images