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Israeli president to visit Brazil, Argentina

October 13th, 2009

Israeli President Shimon Peres

Israeli President Shimon Peres will visit Brazil and Argentina before the end of the year, the Jewish state’s ambassador in Buenos Aires told official Argentine news agency Telam.

Ambassador Daniel Gazit declined to provide an exact date for the trip, citing security concerns. The visit would mark the first by an Israeli president — whose role is largely ceremonial — to Argentina, home to some 300,000 Jews, the largest Jewish community in the Americas after the United States.

Gazit said Peres would discuss the “Middle East conflict” with his Argentine counterpart, President Cristina Kirchner, but would especially focus on “the growing influence of Iran in Latin America” with its hateful ideology and its intent to obtain nuclear weapons.”

Israel’s ultra-nationalist Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman completed a South American tour in late July — the first of its kind in more than a decade — to seek to counter Tehran’s growing influence in the region.

Iran’s influence in America’s backyard has long been cited as a concern in Washington, especially regarding links between Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his Venezuelan counterpart, Hugo Chavez, a firebrand leftist leader who has often crossed swords with the United States.

In June, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA) — an anti-liberal trading bloc launched by Cuba and Venezuela that also includes Bolivia, Nicaragua and Ecuador — announced its support for Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution that overthrew the US-backed shah.

Chavez is among a handful of world leaders to back Iran’s controversial nuclear drive. Venezuela expelled Israel’s ambassador in January to protest an Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip that left more than 1,400 Palestinians dead.

Israel, believed to be the region’s sole if undeclared nuclear armed power, considers Iran its main “existential” threat, citing the repeated calls by its leaders for the destruction of the Jewish state and its support of Lebanese and Palestinian militant groups.

Some 85 people were killed and 300 people were injured in the 1994 bombing that leveled the seven-floor building housing the Argentine Jewish Mutual Association (AMIA) in Buenos Aires. In 1992, a bombing at the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires left 22 people dead and wounded 200.

Argentina accuses Iran of having masterminded the 1994 car bombing and of using the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah to execute it. Buenos Aires has also sought the arrest of five Iranian officials and a Lebanese national in connection with the attack.

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