U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says there is "no doubt" that Iran has a financial presence in South America and that Tehran remains a "global threat."
“Iranian money remains in South America being used for malign purposes, supporting Hizballah, supporting transnational criminal organizations, supporting efforts at terrorism throughout the region," Pompeo said on April 13 in an interview with Voice of America during a visit to the region.
Pompeo noted that an airline had begun direct flights last week from Tehran to Caracas. The carrier, Mahan Air, has been sanctioned by Washington for allegedly transporting military equipment to Middle East war zones.
"This is Iran intervening in South America. That's not in the best interests of the South American people, and the United States stands ready.
"We see Iran for what it is: the world's largest state sponsor of terror. That's a global threat," he added.
Pompeo spoke during a stop in Paraguay on a trip that Washington has said will focus on developments in Venezuela, where embattled socialist President Nicolas Maduro is struggling to hold power amid street protests and a political battle with self-declared interim President Juan Guaido.
Russia, Iran, China, and Cuba are among the countries supporting Maduro, while the United States, much of Europe, and other countries back Guaido.
Maduro, who took office in 2013 after the death of Hugo Chavez, was sworn in for a second term in January following elections in May 2018 that were marred by an opposition boycott and claims of vote-rigging, leading to mass street protests.
Pompeo, who called the election a "sham," said that "Maduro and his henchmen have destroyed this nation."
He added that Maduro's missteps were the reason Guaido had been entrusted with the power to "truly deliver...democracy and prosperity."