U.S. orders expulsion of Venezuelan consul for suspected links to Iranian plot


The United States has ordered the expulsion of Venezuela’s consul general in Miami amid reports linking the diplomat to an alleged Iranian plot to target sensitive U.S. facilities with cyber attacks, the U.S. State Department said Sunday.

The U.S. action comes as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was to kick off a Latin American tour in Caracas later Sunday.

The Venezuelan embassy in Washington was notified Friday that Livia Acosta Noguera, the consul general, had been declared persona non grata and had until Tuesday to leave the country, said State Department spokesman William Ostick.

“In accordance with Article 23 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, the department declared Ms Livia Acosta Noguera, Venezuelan consul general to Miami, to be persona non grata. As such, she must depart the United States by January 10,” he said.

“We cannot comment on specific details behind the decision to declare Ms Acosta persona non grata at this time,” he added in a statement.

The State Department had said last month it was looking into “very disturbing” allegations that Acosta was a participant in an alleged Iranian plot to launch cyber-attacks on sensitive U.S. national security facilities.

The allegations were made in a documentary that aired on the Spanish-language television network Univision, which said Acosta was taped discussing the alleged plot with Mexican students who later sought asylum in the United States.

The contacts reportedly took place in 2007 while Acosta was serving at the Venezuelan embassy in Mexico City.

On December 12, a State Department spokesman said the department could not corroborate the Univision report, but said, “We’re looking into it and continue to assess what additional actions we might take.”

Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez has long been a vociferous opponent of Washington, siding with Iran and Syria against US-led efforts to pressure Tehran over its nuclear program and Damascus on human rights abuses.

Ahmadinejad’s trip to Venezuela and three other leftist-ruled Latin American countries -- Nicaragua, Ecuador and Cuba -- comes amid spiking international tensions over Iran’s nuclear program.

A preliminary agreement by the European Union to embargo Iranian oil shipments has drawn Iranian threats to close the strategic Strait of Hormuz at the entrance of the Gulf if it does.

US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, meanwhile, warned Sunday that the United States would not tolerate the closure of the strait and would respond to reopen it.

In October, the United States accused Tehran of plotting to hire Mexican drug traffickers to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States, which Tehran dismissed as “baseless and unfounded.”