U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is to meet Saturday with Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno in the capital of Quito as he continues his Latin American trip that has so far been dominated by the growing threat of terrorism in the Western Hemisphere.
In Argentina Friday, Pompeo confirmed the U.S. imposed financial sanctions against a Hezbollah militant group leader suspected of directing a deadly bombing in 1994 of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people.
“They were killed by members of a terrorist group, Hezbollah, and had help that day from Iran,” which provided “logistical support and funding through its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps,” Pompeo said at an event in Argentina marking the 25th anniversary of the attack.
Pompeo announced two actions against Salman Raouf Salman, who he said was the on-the-ground coordinator for the deadly bombing, and “remains a wanted man who continues to plot terrorism on behalf of Hezbollah.”
The State Department’s Rewards for Justice program is offering up to $7 million for information leading to his arrest. The U.S. Treasury Department named Salman a specially designated global terrorist, “which denies him access to the United States financial system.”
Pompeo, who was joined by several ministers from Latin American nations on Friday for talks on counterterrorism, said “solidarity” between countries is the “antidote” to the threat of terror.
Pompeo said his four-day Latin American trip was part of a “concerted effort to re-engage with our partners in the hemisphere” as terrorist groups “continue to seek a lasting presence in our hemisphere.”
Argentina’s Foreign Minister Jorge Fauri said, “Argentina will not cease in its struggle to ensure that the Iranian citizens” who carried out the 1994 bombing are “brought to justice in Argentina.”
Earlier, standing at a memorial at the site of the car bombing, Pompeo lit a candle with Jewish center President Ariel Eichbaum and said the worst terrorist attack in Argentina is a stark reminder of the danger to the Western Hemisphere from Hezbollah and other Middle East-based extremist groups.
“It was a moving reminder that our discussion today isn’t abstract; it’s not theoretical. The risk of terrorism is real for each and every one of us, and each and every one of our citizens,” Pompeo said.
On Monday, Argentina’s Security Ministry officially designated the Lebanon-based Hezbollah militant group, which is supported by Iran, as a terrorist organization. The move gives the U.S. another ally in a global coalition to contain Iran’s influence in the Middle East and beyond.
Pompeo’s three-day Latin American visit also takes him to Ecuador, Mexico City and San Salvador, where he will seek cooperation on security issues, reinforce U.S. commitment to human rights and democracy, and expand economic opportunities for citizens, State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said during a recent Washington press briefing.
Venezuela is also expected to be an important topic during Pompeo’s trip. On Friday, the U.S. State Department announced sanctions against four more officials in the government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.
The United States and more than 50 other countries support opposition leader Juan Guaido as the country’s leader. Guaido contends President Maduro’s re-election last year was invalid and wants early presidential elections. Maduro accuses the opposition of fomenting violence.
Migration will also be addressed when Pompeo meets with Latin American leaders. Some experts say the United States must address the root causes or “push factors” that are compelling people to flee their homes.
“You have to look at the lack of opportunity, the gang activity, the weak institutions in this region, in Central America if you are ever going to stop people from making what is a difficult and dangerous journey to the United States. These people don’t leave taking the decision lightly,” said Benjamin Gedan of the Wilson Center.