Iran clinching deals for a longer hold on Latin America

Nov. 25, 2009 at 7:04 PM
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LA PAZ, Bolivia, Nov. 25 (UPI) -- Iran is clinching deals for trade and technical cooperation with Latin American countries with the aim of securing a foothold after the current tour of the region by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Iran has already fostered strong bilateral ties with Nicaragua and Venezuela, but Ahmadinejad's current tour of Brazil, Bolivia and Venezuela is producing a whole series of new contracts that encompass increased trade and economic cooperation, technical assistance in the energy and mining sectors and uranium prospecting.

During his one-day visit to the Bolivian capital Tuesday Ahmadinejad and Bolivian counterpart Evo Morales signed agreements that include Iranian technical assistance with industrial development in the Latin American country. After the signing ceremony at the president palace Ahmadinejad and Morales posed for photographers. Earlier the Iranian president was greeted with military honors and presented with the key to the city.

Upon arrival, Ahmadinejad was welcomed by an Iranian girl representing the Iranian community in Bolivia, an indication that the Iranian-Bolivian connections run deep. Last January Bolivia broke off diplomatic relations with Israel over the Gaza conflict.

The Jewish community in Bolivia reacted with alarm to the developments. Ricardo Udler, president of the Israelite Circle of Bolivia, said Ahmadinejad's visit caused "a very high feeling of concern and anxiety." Ahmadinejad last visited Bolivia in September 2007, under the auspices of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, whom he will visit next in the final part of his current tour.

Earlier Ahmadinejad visited Brazil to jeers and taunts from the opposition to President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the Iranian's host, and from protesters against Iran's nuclear program.

Iran has made much of Brazil's defense of Iran's nuclear program, though interpretations of what exactly Lula supported vary.

The leader of the Brazilian opposition, Jose Serra, criticized Lula for receiving Ahmadinejad and recalled the current Iranian defense minister, Ahmad Vahidi, was suspected of involvement in a 1994 attack on the Argentine Jewish Mutual organization in Buenos Aires. Iran has denied the charge.

Lula has responded to the criticism, saying he considers it important to talk with Tehran as part of the Middle East dialogue.

"If Iran is a major player in all this conflict, it is important for someone to sit with Iran, talk to them so we can return to some sort of normality in the Middle East," he said in a radio program.

However, analysts said Brazil's ties with Iran had gone beyond a dialogue as both sides have signed numerous agreements for long-term economic and technical cooperation. Venezuela's Chavez, who visited Iran in September, has also announced he intends to sign more agreements with Iran to follow up on accords reached earlier.

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