Joby WarrickWashington Post 

January 2, 2012

Iran is quietly seeking to expand its ties with Latin America in what U.S. officials and regional experts say is an effort to circumvent economic sanctions and gain access to much-needed markets and raw materials.The new diplomatic offensive, which comes amid rising tensions with Washington and European powers, includes a four-nation swing through South and Central America this month by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. His government has vowed to increase its economic, political and military influence in the United States’ back yard.

The visit reinforces recent commitments by Iran to invest millions of dollars in economic development projects for the region, from a mining joint venture in Ecuador to factories for petrochemicals and small-arms ammunition in Venezuela.

Iran has also dramatically expanded its diplomatic missions throughout the hemisphere and dispatched members of its elite Quds Force — the military unit U.S. officials in October linked to a foiled assassination plot in Washington — to serve in its embassies, U.S. officials and Iran experts say.

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