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WASHINGTON, May 1 (Reuters) - Iran and China are making "disturbing" gains in Latin America and Washington cannot afford to isolate leaders from nations like Venezuela and Bolivia, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Friday.
"The prior administration tried to isolate them, tried to support opposition to them, tried to turn them into international pariahs. It didn't work," Clinton told foreign service officers at a meeting at the State Department.
Nations such as China, Russia and Iran were making gains in Latin America, she said, forging close relationships with leaders who had been hostile to Washington during the Bush administration.
"In fact, if you look at the gains particularly in Latin America that Iran is making and China is making, it is quite disturbing. They are building very strong economic and political connections with a lot of these leaders," she said.
"I don't think -- it's a multipolar world where we are competing for attention and relationships with at least the Russians, the Chinese, the Iranians -- that it is in our interests to turn our backs on countries that are in our hemisphere," she added.
The Obama administration has sought to turn around caustic ties with a host of Latin American nations, including Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez and sought new relations with Cuba as well as Bolivia.
Reporting by Sue Pleming, editing by Jackie Frank