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Ahmadinejad cements ties with Chavez

The leaders of Iran and Venezuela cemented an alliance aimed at countering US influence as the Iranian president declared that “no one can defeat us” and reached out to a new ally in Bolivia.

After being vilified during his UN visit this week, Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad traveled on to friendlier territory on Thursday, first stopping in Bolivia - where he pledged $1 billion in investment - and then visiting Venezuela to meet President Hugo Chavez. “Together we are surely growing stronger, and in truth no one can defeat us,” the Iranian leader said through an interpreter in Caracas. Apparently referring to the US, he said, “Imperialism has no other option: Respect the peoples (of the world) or accept defeat.” Chavez embraced the Iranian leader, calling him “one of the greatest anti-imperialist fighters” and “one of the great fighters for true peace”. In his speech to the UN General Assembly this week, Ahmadinejad rebuked “arrogant powers” seeking to curb Iran’s nuclear program.

Chavez also defends Iran’s nuclear research, insisting it is for peaceful energy use despite US charges it is aimed at making nuclear weapons. He says Venezuela plans to eventually develop its own nuclear energy program. The Venezuelan leader said he was proud of Ahmadinejad’s courage while under hostile questioning at New York’s Columbia University. “An imperial spokesman tried to disrespect you, calling you a cruel little tyrant. You responded with the greatness of a revolutionary.”

Ahmadinejad has extended an invitation to US President George W. Bush to speak at an Iranian university if the American leader ever traveled to the Islamic Republic, state-run television reported on Friday. “If their president plans to travel to Iran, we will allow him to make a speech” at a university, Ahmadinejad told state TV before leaving New York to travel to South America earlier this week.

In Bolivia, Ahmadinejad pledged investment over the next five years to help the poor Andean nation tap its vast natural gas reserves, extract minerals, generate more electricity and fund agricultural and construction projects. Bolivian President Evo Morales called Ahmadinejad’s visit historic as the two nations established diplomatic relations for the first time. Morales brushed off concerns about close ties to a country that the Bush administration calls a sponsor of terrorism, saying the “international community can rest assured that Bolivia’s foreign policy is dedicated to peace with equality and social justice”.

Ahmadinejad’s trip underscored his growing ties to Latin American nations, including Nicaragua and Ecuador, even as the United States tries to isolate him internationally. The closer ties are viewed with alarm by the opposition in Venezuela and Bolivia, and by Washington. US Rep Connie Mack, a Florida Republican, urged Washington to reach out more to a region analysts say it has largely ignored since September 11. Toward that aim, a bipartisan bill is being introduced in the US Congress on Friday that would establish a 10-year, $2.5 billion program aimed at reducing poverty and expanding the middle class in Latin America. It would require recipient countries to contribute and encourage matching funds from businesses and non-governmental organizations. And before Ahmadinejad left early on Friday, the leaders signed new accords, including plans to build methanol plants in both countries and an auto parts factory in Venezuela.

Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa also wants closer ties with Teheran and last month Nicaragua accepted Iranian pledges for 10,000 houses, 4,000 tractors, milk-processing plants, piers and a farm equipment assembly plant in exchange for goods from Managua. (people.com.cn)