Franklin Reyes / AP
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, left, holds up his Honoris Causa distinction conferred by Gustavo Cobreiro, rector of the University Havana, right, Wednesday in Havana, Cuba, his third stop of a Latin American tour.
HAVANA -- No surprise to anyone that we're hearing tough words during the Latin American tour of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Swinging through Nicaragua, Venezuela, Cuba and Ecuador, the Iranian leader seems to be at home among America’s united enemies — and the left leaders equally comfortable with him.
First and foremost, Ahmadinejad seems to be on his tour to defend his country’s nuclear program. While Iran claims that the nation’s nuclear program is solely for energy and other peaceful purposes, the United States and Western allies accuse Tehran of secretly building nuclear weapons.
During Monday’s stop in Caracas, Ahmadinejad addressed the issue head on and charged the Obama administration with making unjust threats.
"They say we're making a bomb. ... Everyone knows that those words ... are a joke, something to laugh at." Ahmadinejad claims Washington is just "afraid" of Iran’s development.
For his part, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez accused Washington of demonizing Iran and trumping up false claims about the nuclear issue "like they used the excuse of weapons of mass destruction to do what they did in Iraq."
Chavez even joked how Ahmadinejad’s tour was making America nervous: "When we devils get together ... it's like they go crazy," Chavez said.
From Caracas, Ahmadinejad headed to Managua for the inauguration of Daniel Ortega to another term. He called Ortega his "brother president" while Ortega praised Ahmadinejad for his "peace" efforts. Once again, Ahmadinejad dismissed the accusations about Iran's nuclear program.
Wednesday morning, Ahmadinejad landed in Havana.
In each country so far, Ahmadinejad secured the backing for his controversial nuclear program. Don’t expect less from the Cubans.
Fidel Castro is on the record defending Iran's right to develop nuclear energy and ridiculing the Obama administration for claiming that Iran is secretly developing nuclear weapons.
Receiving an honorary doctorate in political science from Havana University, Ahmadinejad spent almost his entire acceptance speech accusing the West of being the world's "bully." The wars in the Middle East, he charged, have been all about winning elections in the West and about controlling oil reserves.
Ahmadinejad was also expected to meet with the Castro brothers during his one-day visit. Again, we should expect to hear more of the same given that the two countries see eye to eye, especially when it comes to the United States. Since the start of Iran’s nuclear program, Havana has unflaggingly defended Tehran's right to develop nuclear technology while openly ridiculing the Obama administration for its claim that Iran is secretly developing nuclear weapons.
And for Iran's part, the Islamic nation has repeatedly condemned the U.S. economic embargo against the island nation.
But, for as much as this trip is about criticizing U.S. policies, it also seems to have a practical edge to it. Ahmadinejad is talking up the importance of trade in Latin America.
In Venezuela, Iran has already invested in the construction industry along with factories producing farm machinery, trucks and food products.
Cuban-Iran economic ties are fairly strong too.
Back in 2003, the two countries agreed to support mutual foreign investment and expand bilateral trade. Since then, Iran has extended 200 million in euro credit to the island, which the island has used primarily to upgrade its rail system. There is discussion to increase that line of credit to 500 million euros. Cuba is helping to build a plant in Iran that produces vaccines and medicines. The bilateral trade is said to be as much as 30 million euros a year.
From here, the Iranian leader heads to Ecuador as the last stop on his whirlwind tour.
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