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Bolivia, Iran build on key trade pacts

LA PAZ, Bolivia, Nov. 3 (UPI) -- Bolivia and Iran have built up on several years of high-level contacts with new agreements that give La Paz much needed cash and Tehran even more critically required sanctions-busting tools.

The latest in the series of inter-government deals inked by Presidents Evo Morales and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will give Iran more than a toehold in Bolivia's agriculture, mining and industrial sectors and joint directorship of a new bank.

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Iran hasn't only the cash to extend liberal credits but also technical expertise to help Bolivia develop a wide range of mines, including lithium for the global batteries markets and uranium for nuclear power generation -- if not immediately much more.

The new joint bank will give Iranian government and private institutions financial access where much of it was taken away by sanctions over the continuing and unresolved nuclear reactor row.

With the entire history of sanctions-busting by pariah nations under their arm, Iranian government strategists have struck out near and far to find alternatives to whatever the sanctions aim to bar from reaching Iran. This is where Bolivia comes in.

Invited to lavish welcome in Iran, Morales announced he would welcome the Islamic Republic as a partner in a joint project to develop extraction, refining and export of lithium from one of the world's largest reserves.

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Morales said he was aware of Iran's scientific and technical know-how in developing the country's mining sector. A procession of multinationals and industrial giants from Europe, Japan and South America has sought rights to exploit Bolivia's vast lithium deposits. However, Morales in the past showed disdain for partnering with any company or institution closely aligned with the West.

He told a news conference with Ahmadinejad he would explore the possibility of inviting other companies from Brazil, Venezuela, Japan and South Korea as well as France.

Morales also indicated he wouldn't simply look for partners that helped extract lithium, essential to batteries, and other minerals. Instead, he said, Bolivia would seek trade partners who would aim to market more refined and processed versions of lithium and other metals and mines in Bolivia.

Iran also confirmed a revolving credit of $280 million toward the mining project and related industrialization and opened its market for Bolivian agricultural products like soybeans, rice and sugar.

Officials said Iran's earlier cash investment in Bolivia already exceeded $1.1 billion which Iran hopes to recover through sales of Bolivian goods in the Middle East and other regions.

During the visit by Morales, Iran and Bolivia signed five memorandums of understanding that see the establishment of a joint bank and technology transfer from Iran to Bolivian agriculture and industry.

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Iran would also set up a tractor production line in Bolivia and supply the Latin American nation with some 1,000 tractors before the new plant opens, officials said.

Bilateral collaboration between the two countries has grown since 2007, when Ahmadinejad visited Bolivia.

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