US warns Bolivia on growing ties with Iran
LA PAZ: A US congressional delegation arrived on Tuesday to smooth tensions between the two countries, but warned that Bolivia's growing ties to Iran could cost it a key US trade agreement.
Five lawmakers are promoting the extension of the Andean Trade Preferences and Drug Eradication Act, which expires next week and allows duty-free imports from Andean countries as a reward for cooperating in the war on drugs.
But they arrived just a day after President Evo Morales announced that Iran wants to open a regional television network in Bolivia. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has also proposed investing in Bolivia's oil and gas industry.
"There is a very high level of concern regarding the activities of Iran in Latin America," Jerry Weller, a Republican from Illinios, said following the meeting. "If this concern continues to grow in our Congress, it will be come more difficult to extend these preferences in the future," he added.
The trade deal amounted to US $385 million (euro 261 million) in Bolivian exports to the US in 2007 and provides an estimated 50,000 jobs in South America's poorest country.
Eliot Engel, a New York Democrat, also called for a halt to the heated exchanges over allegations that a US embassy official in Bolivia recently asked a Fulbright scholar and Peace Corps volunteers to keep tabs on Venezuelan and Cuban workers in the country.
"We need to talk about our two countries being partners," he said.