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Clinton Says U.S. Should Counter Iran, China Influence In Latin America

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said the United States must try to reach out to Latin American leaders to counter the trend of growing Chinese and Iranian influence in the region.

Clinton said the Bush administration's policy of isolating leaders who have led opposition to U.S. policies in Central and South America has failed and damaged Washington's interests.

Speaking to State Department employees on May 1, Clinton described as "disturbing" the inroads that Iran and China have been making in Latin America.

"They are building very strong economic and political connections with a lot of these leaders. I don't think that's in our interest,” Clinton said.

Clinton’s comments come as Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad is set to visit Brazil on May 6 for talks expected to focus on trade. Ahmadinejad is expected to also visit Venezuela on the same trip to Latin America.

Clinton described the new world as "multipolar” where the United States is competing with countries such as Russia, China, and Iran.

“I don't think in today's world -- it's a multi-polar world where we are competing for attention and relationships with at least the Russians, the Chinese, the Iranians -- that it's in our interests to turn our backs on countries in our own hemisphere. So we're going to try some different approaches,” Clinton said.

Clinton did not explicitly refer to inroads by Russia, which has said it could seek the short-term use of bases in Cuba and Venezuela.

Focus On Latin America

The top U.S. diplomat defended new moves to engage anti-U.S. leaders in Latin America.

She said Washington was exploring how to deal with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Nicaragua’s Daniel Noriega, Ecuador’s Rafael Correa, and Evo Morales of Bolivia.

"When we look around the world, we see a number of countries and leaders -- Chavez is one of them but not the only one -- who over the last eight years have become more and more negative and oppositional to the United States," Clinton said.

"Certainly, from my perspective, the prior administration tried to isolate them, tried to support opposition to them, tried to, you know, try to turn them into international pariahs. It didn't work.”

Clinton said the United States and Venezuela were exploring the possibility of restoring ambassadors after each country expelled the other’s envoy last year.

She acknowledged the United States stands alone in the region with its policy toward communist Cuba.

“We're facing an almost united front against the United States regarding Cuba. Every country, even those with whom we are closest, is just saying: ‘You've got to change. You can't keep doing what you're doing,’" Clinton said.

"We would like to see some reciprocity from the Castros on political prisoners, human rights, and other matters.”

U.S. President Barack Obama has said he wants to improve relations with Latin America after years of decline. He also has made overtures to the Cuban leadership, raising hopes of scrapping a decades-old U.S. embargo on the island.