Iran is "struggling" to cultivate ties with Latin American countries that are wary of the United States, and Tehran's influence in the region is on the decline, a top US general said Tuesday.
"The reality on the ground is that Iran is struggling to maintain influence in the region, and that its efforts to cooperate with a small set of countries with interests that are inimical to the United States are waning," General John Kelly, head of US Southern Command, told lawmakers.
In Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Argentina, Iran has sought to expand diplomatic and economic links to counter international sanctions and to promote anti-US sentiment, Kelly told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
But the bid has only been "marginally successful" and the broader region "has not been receptive to Iranian efforts," the general said.
Iran's ally, the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah, also has a presence in several Latin American states and has received support from Venezuela's government, with officials being sanctioned for assisting the militants, Kelly said.
But the US military's "limited intelligence capabilities may prevent our full awareness of all Iranian and Hezbollah activities in the region," said Kelly, in an apparent allusion to budget pressures.
President Barack Obama signed a law in December designed to counter Iran's alleged influence in Latin America, where it has opened up several new embassies in recent years.
The law calls for the State Department to shape a new diplomatic and political strategy in the region to undercut Iran's efforts.
The legislation also calls on the Department of Homeland Security to bolster surveillance at US borders with Canada and Mexico to prevent operatives from Iran or Hezbollah from entering the United States.