(CNSNews.com) – Fresh from his visit to four leftist allies in Latin America, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said this week that Iran and the countries he visited are part of the same front campaigning against “global hegemony, injustice, and unilateralism.”
“Iran is expanding ties with Latin American states as part of its macro-policy of promoting ties and cooperation with independent countries in the international scene in efforts to counter the extremist approaches of the hegemonic powers,” he told a cabinet meeting.
Ahmadinejad returned home Sunday after a five-day visit to Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Ecuador, focused on enhancing business ties and on parading political support in a region Iranian media repeatedly noted is viewed as the “backyard” of the United States.
“Leaders in all the four Latin American countries have in recent years built up diplomatic and trade ties with Iran, while their relations with the U.S. have been greatly reduced amid popular demands for an end to dependence on Washington,” Iran’s state-funded Press TV commented.
Ahmadinejad has made half a dozen visits to Latin America since first elected in 2005.
Ahead of the latest trip, the Obama administration suggested it was a sign of desperation on the part of Iran.
“As the regime feels increasing pressure, it is desperate for friends and flailing around in interesting places to find new friends,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said on Jan. 6.
She urged all countries, including those on Ahmadinejad’s itinerary, to put pressure on Iran over its nuclear programs – activities that Tehran insists are for peaceful purposes only, but which Western countries and others believe are a cover for developing a nuclear weapons capability.
“We are making absolutely clear to countries around the world that now is not the time to be deepening ties, not security ties, not economic ties, with Iran,” she said.
As the tour began three days later, Nuland said the U.S. was “calling on all of these countries to do what they can to impress upon the Iranian regime that the course that it’s on in its nuclear dialogue with the international community is the wrong one, and frankly, we think it’s in the interest of all countries, including the countries that he’s visiting in Latin America, that Iran prove the peaceful intent of its nuclear program to the world.”
Despite those appeals, Ahmadinejad found predictable levels of support in each of the four countries he visited.
In Caracas, Ahmadinejad lauded Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’ “brave” stance on Iran’s nuclear efforts and the two in a joint statement condemned Israel and “global imperialism.” The two also signed agreements expanding cooperation in industry, science and nano-technology.
In Havana, Ahmadinejad issued a joint statement with President Raul Castro pointedly stressing the “right of all nations to the peaceful use of nuclear energy.”
In Managua he attended the inauguration of President Daniel Ortega – re-elected last November in a process which international observers reported was marked by significant irregularities – and won from Ortega a declaration that it is Israel, not Iran, that must dismantle its nuclear program.
In Quito, Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa criticized a recent International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report which, for the first time, publicly charged Iran with developing technologies used to develop nuclear weapons.
“Iran can count on the total support of Ecuador so that the truth is known and not just the propaganda of countries which show a shameful double standard,” Correa said after his five hours of talks with the Iranian leader.
After the IAEA report’s release, Ecuador and Cuba alone voted against a resolution expressing “deep and increasing concern” about Iran’s nuclear program and urging Tehran to clear up outstanding questions about its nuclear capabilities. The 35-member IAEA board of governors adopted the measure by 32 votes to two on Nov. 18; Indonesia abstained.
‘Tour of tyrants’
Speaking during a joint press conference with Correa, Ahmadinejad said that Latin America was “no longer a backyard of the United States,” and suggested that “hegemonic powers” learn the lessons of history and not add to their already long list of mistakes.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, described the Iranian leader’s trip as a “tour of tyrants.”
“As responsible nations toughen sanctions on Iran and the regime becomes increasingly isolated, it makes sense that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would seek a helping hand from fellow dictators and human rights abusers,” she said in an earlier statement.
“Ahmadinejad’s desire to strengthen ties with anti-American dictators and expand Iranian influence in the Western Hemisphere directly threatens U.S. security interests, and continues a trend also followed by previous Iranian leaders,” she said. “Unfortunately, they have already made significant progress in making inroads.”
During the stop in Ecuador, Ros-Lehtinen voiced concern that Iran’s deepening alliance with Correa “facilitates Tehran’s ability to access Ecuador’s uranium deposits.”
“The United States must look closely at this unabashed cooperation and address Correa’s potential role in assisting Iran’s nuclear ambition,” she said.
Ros-Lehtinen also issued separate statements during Ahmadinejad’s visits to Cuba and Nicaragua, focusing on the need to treat Iran and Cuba – “both state-sponsors of terrorism” – as threats to U.S. national security, and saying it was no coincidence that Ahmadinejad and Chavez were among the few heads of state attending Ortega’s inauguration following the “stolen” election: “These brutal dictators stick together.”