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 US facilities with cyber attacks, the US State Department said Sunday.The US action comes as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was to kick off a Latin American tour in Caracas later Sunday.
In Caracas, President Hugo Chavez made no mention of the consul's expulsion in his Sunday radio and TV program but accused Washington of "inventing" Iranian plots to attack the United States from Latin American countries like Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba.
For the United States to say "no country should get close to Iran really is a laugh," Chavez said.
The Venezuelan embassy in Washington was notified Friday that Livia Acosta Noguera, the consul general in Miami, 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 US 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 a Mexican computer expert who said he was among a group of students recruited for the plot.
The contacts reportedly took place in 2007 while Acosta was serving as a second secretary at the Venezuelan embassy in Mexico City.
An excerpt of one conversation has Acosta demanding information that the student, Juan Carlos Munoz Ledo, had passed on to Iranian diplomats about the locations of US nuclear power plants. She was quoted as later telling Munoz that she had passed the information to the head of Chavez's presidential security unit.
Univision said Munoz said he was recruited for the Iranian plot by a leftist professor at the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, but then recruited other students to secretly videotape the Iranian and Venezuelan diplomats they met with.
According to Univision, the students then sent or personally turned over the material they gathered to US embassy officials in Mexico, the FBI, Pentagon and US lawmakers. Several of the students were reportedly seeking asylum in the United States.
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."
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 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."