Iran's anti-U.S. president heads to Venezuela
Friday, January 12, 2007; 2:19 PM
TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad left Iran on Friday for his second trip to Latin America in four months, starting with a visit to Venezuela and talks with its anti-U.S. President Hugo Chavez.
Ahmadinejad, who like Chavez peppers his speeches with statements against Washington, will also visit Nicaragua and Ecuador, where presidents opposed to U.S. policies have also recently won elections.
"Iran and Venezuela are very good friends ... The aim of this trip is to follow up previous agreements and to reach new ones," Ahmadinejad told reporters at Tehran's International Mehrabad airport, the official IRNA news agency said.
The United States is unlikely to welcome the tour by Ahmadinejad. Washington accuses Iran of sponsoring terrorism and seeking to build atomic bombs, charges Tehran denies.
Chavez welcomed Ahmadinejad to Caracas in September with the words: "Two revolutions are giving each other a hand."
Washington accuses Venezuela, which like Iran is a member of OPEC, of using its oil wealth to destabilize democracy in the region.
Chavez, the most visible face of a leftist resurgence in Latin America, has built strong ties to U.S. adversaries like Iran as he promotes a socialist "revolution" to end poverty. Likewise, Ahmadinejad has vowed to share out oil wealth more fairly in Iran.
When Chavez visited Iran in July, Ahmadinejad described him as "my brother, the brother of the whole Iranian nation and of all freedom-seeking people in the world."
The Venezuelan president has backed Iran in its pursuit of nuclear technology, which Tehran insists is aimed at generating electricity not making bombs. The two countries have signed numerous cooperation agreements in the past.
Unlike his Latin American counterparts who have recently secured election victories, Ahmadinejad was dealt a blow at the ballot box in Iran last month when his supporters were trounced in votes for local councils and a powerful clerical body.
Ahmadinejad is due to arrive in Caracas on Saturday morning and to hold talks later the same day with Chavez, IRNA said.
On Sunday, he travels to Nicaragua, where U.S. Cold War foe Daniel Ortega swept to power this month. Ahmadinejad then travels to Ecuador, where the presidential race was recently won by Rafael Correa, another critic of U.S. policies.