Chavez presses al­lies to back Iran

Ah­madine­jad of­fers in­cen­tives

The Washington Times Weekly - - Front Page - By Martin Arostegui

SANTA CRUZ, Bo­livia — Venezue­lan Pres­i­dent Hugo Chavez is en­cour­ag­ing his Latin Amer­i­can al­lies to ex­pand ties with Iran, which is of­fer­ing trade con­ces­sions and fi­nan­cial in­cen­tives and win­ning in­flu­ence in the re­gion.

Dur­ing two re­cent vis­its to Venezuela, Ira­nian Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ah­madine­jad signed more than $17 bil­lion worth of eco­nomic agree­ments with Mr. Chavez.

Nicaraguan Pres­i­dent Daniel Ortega last month re­ceived Ira­nian For­eign Min­is­ter Manouchehr Mot­taki while Bo­li­vian Pres­i­dent Evo Mo­rales an­nounced a new trade deal with Iran.

“The strug­gle for jus­tice and truth in the frame­work of eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment is the prin­ci­ple ob­jec­tive of the gov­ern­ment in Nicaragua and of our friends in Iran,” said Mr. Ortega when Mr. Mot­taki ar­rived af­ter stop­ping in Venezuela for talks with Mr. Chavez.

Mr. Ortega called Iran a “vic­tim” of the U.S., which he ac­cused of “sup­port­ing ter­ror­ism.”

Speak­ing in the rural Bo­li­vian com­mu­nity of San Ju­lian on the

same day, Mr. Mo­rales told peas­ant sup­port­ers to grow soy­beans to ex­port to Iran.

“In the last meet­ing I had with the am­bas­sador of Iran, he told me that his coun­try will buy all the pro­duc­tion that we gen­er­ate,” Mr. Mo­rales said in an­nounc­ing the im­mi­nent ar­rival of an Ira­nian trade del­e­ga­tion.

Bo­li­vian of­fi­cials say that they need new mar­kets for agri­cul­tural prod­ucts, which may lose U.S. tar­iff pref­er­ences over Mr. Mo­rales’ re­fusal to sign a free-trade agree­ment with Wash­ing­ton and erad­i­cate coca plan­ta­tions that sup­ply in­ter­na­tional co­caine traf­fick­ers.

Of­fi­cials also credit Iran with of­fer­ing much needed aid and in­vest­ment.

But some an­a­lysts warn of broader con­se­quences from eco­nomic ties be­tween the re­gion and Iran.

“Ex­port­ing soya to the peo­ple of Iran should be purely com­mer­cial. But as the pro­posal de­rives from a mu­tual co­op­er­a­tion agree­ment be- tween the gov­ern­ments of Iran and Venezuela, it does have po­lit­i­cal con­no­ta­tions,” said a lead­ing Bo­li­vian in­ter­na­tional an­a­lyst, Xi­mena Costas.

With Mr. Mo­rales sit­ting next to him on his Sun­day TV talk show, “Alo Pres­i­dente,” Mr. Chavez called on Iran to “an­a­lyze ways” of in­cor­po­rat­ing Bo­livia and other mem­bers of his Bo­li­var­ian Al­ter­na­tive for the Amer­i­cas (ALBA) into ex­ist­ing eco­nomic agree­ments with Venezuela.

ALBA is a so­cial­ist com­mon­mar­ket ini­tia­tive formed be­tween Venezuela and Cuba, which has re­cently in­cor­po­rated Bo­livia and Nicaragua.

Mr. Chavez, Mr. Mo­rales, Mr. Ortega and Cuban Vice Pres­i­dent Car­los Lage met in Cara­cas on April 29 to co­or­di­nate trade poli­cies.

Mr. Chavez has been vo­cal in his sup­port of Iran’s nu­clear am­bi­tions and has openly asked for aid to help build a Venezue­lan nu­clear re­ac­tor.

There have been Venezue­lan press re­ports about the pres­ence of Ira­nian sci­en­tists at ura­nium mines lo­cated in the lower Orinoco River basin.

Some an­a­lysts spec­u­late that cur­rent talks be­tween Iran and Bo­livia may also in­volve min­ing con­ces­sions for ura­nium re­serves in Bo­livia’s east­ern low­lands where Venezuela is sta­tion­ing troops, ac­cord­ing to lo­cal au­thor­i­ties.

Not all Latin gov­ern­ments are happy about grow­ing ties be­tween Latin Amer­ica and Iran.

Ar­gen­tine Pres­i­dent Nestor Kirch­ner stayed away from the in­au­gu­ra­tion of Ecuado­ran Pres­i­dent Rafael Cor­rea be­cause Mr. Ah­madine­jad was in­vited.

Ar­gentina has re­cently is­sued in­dict­ments against Ira­nian diplo­matic of­fi­cials re­port­edly linked to the 1996 truck bomb­ing against a Jewish com­mu­nity cen­ter in Buenos Aires, which killed 100 per­sons.

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