Trip To Latin America Shows Iran's Not Isolated

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has completed a four-country tour of left-leaning Latin American nations. His trip came as the West increased pressure on Iran over its nuclear program.

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Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has completed a four-country tour of left-leaning Latin American nations. His travels come as the West increases pressure on Iran over its nuclear program.

NPR's Juan Forero is in Bogota, Colombia. He's been monitoring Ahmadinejad's travels in this hemisphere. Hi, Juan.

JUAN FORERO, BYLINE: Hi. Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: So where exactly did Ahmadinejad go?

FORERO: Well, Ahmadinejad opened up in Venezuela, where Hugo Chavez is the president there. And he's been a close ally. So, the Iranian president also went to Nicaragua, Cuba and Ecuador. All of them are allies of Venezuela. And all of them, like Iran, oppose American policy in the region.

So, this was seen as sort of a way for Iran, whose country, you know, the country, of course, is isolated at the moment, to show that they still have friends, that Iran still has allies and that not everyone agrees with Washington sanctions.

INSKEEP: OK. So, I know that Iran has been reaching out to countries like this for a while, but what exactly do they get out of this?

FORERO: Well, he signed some cooperation agreements, which Ahmadinejad and the Latin American president said will lead to more trade. That's something that they've done in the past. And, of course, trade has increased between Iran and the region in recent years.

But I think most of the gains, as far as how Iran saw it, are ideological. Ahmadinejad could stand next to other presidents. There were a lot of photo ops. And these are presidents who also criticize American actions in the Middle East. And they did plenty of that on this trip.

INSKEEP: Weren't there American officials who were trying to discourage countries from being too cooperative with Iran at this time?

FORERO: Yeah, the United States came out and clearly said this is not something that we want to see. This is not the time for this to happen. And they didn't really name Venezuela, but it was clearly directed mostly at Venezuela. Venezuela is the entry point for Iran into Latin America. And it's been that way for a long time.

INSKEEP: So give me your sense, Juan Forero, as somebody who covers the region. When people talk about Iran on the streets in Caracas, Venezuela or a city like that, are they sympathetic?

FORERO: Steve, I think that this has been troubling to some people in Latin America. Of course, they look at Iran and they see some of Iran's activities, even in this region, and they criticize that Iran was involved in a pair of bombings in Argentina back in the 1990s.

And, of course, more recently there were problems in Iran with the 2009 elections. And there were protests and crackdowns there. And now, of course, the whole nuclear program. So they say: How can we be aligning ourselves with a country that's involved in these kinds of activities?

INSKEEP: Well, was there any point in this visit that Ahmadinejad addressed a large crowd somewhere?

FORERO: No. Most of this was very much in presidential palaces and so forth. In Venezuela, of course, there was a meeting at the Miraflores Palace in Caracas. And there was a press conference afterwards. And Ahmadinejad made comments there. He also made comments in Nicaragua and Cuba and in Ecuador. But they were very tightly controlled press events. And, no, there was no kind of mingling with regular folks.

INSKEEP: Juan, thanks very much.

FORERO: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Juan Forero reporting today from Bogota, Colombia on the visit to Latin America of Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

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