Nicaragua and Iran explored the possibility of strengthening military cooperation, during a meeting led by Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian with senior officers of the Nicaraguan Army, The New York Times reported in late April, based on a leaked Pentagon document.
“Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega in his agreements with Iran or Russia seeks to interweave the interests of these countries with his own. That way, if there are any actions against [him], they can respond in his favor,” Eliseo Núñez, a Nicaraguan political analyst and former congressman, told Diálogo on May 30. “He could basically become Iran’s agent in Latin America, which would complicate things. He believes that uneasiness helps him stay in power.”
The intelligence report of February 23 indicated that Amir-Abdollahian also held several meetings with members of the regime. Official statements about the visit did not mention the meeting with the military chiefs, highlighting only the promises of trade, energy, and economic aid.
The Nicaraguan regime spoke of a constant exchange of missions and offered to “become a platform for export goods, to showcase Iranian products in all of Central America and [to play] a very important role in diplomacy and geopolitics,” Nicaragua’s state-owned news site El 19 Digital reported.
“The leak clearly shows Ortega’s intentions to concretize mutual defense projects with Iran,” Félix Maradiaga, a former Nicaraguan presidential candidate who was imprisoned by the Ortega-Murillo regime before being “banished” to the United States, told Nicaraguan news site Confidencial. “This rapprochement is, so far, the most frontal attitude of the regime to consolidate a military alliance with enemies of the United States. There is no military assistance of any relevance between Iran and Nicaragua at this time.”
Forging closer ties with Iran is a strategy of the Ortega-Murillo regime against isolation. “The regime is surviving and to survive it takes up this type of relationship that, in their logic, is not risky. The risk is rather to remain alone in the face of U.S. sanctions,” Dr. Carlos Cascante Segura, political analyst and professor at the School of International Relations of the National University of Costa Rica, told Diálogo. “Russia, Iran, and Nicaragua are under sanctions. They are seeking among themselves to evade these sanctions.”
Meanwhile, Nicaragua and Iran are keeping up with courtesy visits. For example, on May 7, 2023, Nicaragua’s Ambassador to Iran Isaac Bravo met with Hosein Heidari, mayor of the Iranian city Bushehr, to discuss areas of commercial opportunities between both nations. On April 23, Bravo met with Rasool Jalill, rector of Sharif University in Tehran, who in 2012 was linked to “Iran’s illicit nuclear technology procurement activities,” in order to “establish academic ties of collaboration,” El 19 Digital reported.
“These ‘ties’ with Sharif University mean nothing and are nothing more than window dressing by the dictatorship to show off and boast of alliances with enemies of the United States,” Enrique Saenz, a Nicaraguan economist and political analyst, told digital platform Nicaragua Investiga. “In order for there to be real collaboration in this area [nuclear energy], Nicaragua needs a technological infrastructure and human resources with the capability to serve as a counterpart for research and project development, and in Nicaragua they even eliminated the Physics degree from universities. What the dictatorship can do, in its insane attitude, is for the Iranians to install some huge laboratory, under their control, to give a semblance of credibility to what is nothing more than a hoax of the dictatorship.”
Meanwhile, countries of region are watching Iran’s presence in Central America closely. Costa Rican Foreign Minister Arnoldo André told Voice of America that “in an increasingly polarized world, with a conflict that could lead to the use of nuclear weapons, the international community must be vigilant so that all members of the United Nations commit themselves to nuclear non-proliferation.”
“I think it is an irresponsible, risky, and reckless foreign policy of the Ortega regime attempting to make alliances with countries like Iran; the consequences would be very delicate,” José Dávila, a Nicaraguan political analyst, told Nicaragua Investiga. “What [Nicaragua] needs is development aid, aid to democratize, aid to get out of poverty.”
So risky and reckless the Ortega-Murillo regime is in matters of military cooperation, that it is also turning the Central American country into “Russia’s strategic partner in the region.” The Kremlin’s Ministry of Defense acknowledged having sent military equipment “for humanitarian purposes” to the Nicaraguan Army, to assist in emergency situations, Colombian magazine Semana reported on May 18.
“The Ortega-Murillo dictatorship seeks to be close to those countries to attract the attention of the United States and to have elements they consider useful in that relationship,” Cascante Segura added. “They are interested in demonstrating that they have an international reach, especially with those countries that question the United States. From there to Iranian military assistance, I find it more complicated.”
Moscow argued that this cooperation seeks to “increase the level of national security and defense capabilities of both states,” being that Nicaragua is its “strategic partner in the region,” Colombian daily El Tiempo reported.