Iran's Ahmadinejad to seek Latin American support

Sat Jan 7, 2012 11:20am EST
 
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By Robin Pomeroy and Daniel Wallis

TEHRAN/CARACAS (Reuters) - Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will seek support from Latin America's leftist leaders on a tour starting on Sunday after tough new Western sanctions targeted Iran's oil industry.

With one eye on his standing at home ahead of March's parliamentary election, Ahmadinejad will meet other anti-American presidents on a trip Washington said showed Iran was "desperate for friends."

His first stop is OPEC-ally Venezuela, where Ahmadinejad has been assured a warm welcome by President Hugo Chavez. He will also visit Cuba and Ecuador and attend the inauguration of re-elected Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega.

"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," U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said on Friday.

"As the regime feels increasing pressure, it is desperate for friends and flailing around in interesting places to find new friends," Nuland said.

President Barack Obama signed new measures into law on New Year's Eve that will make it harder for most countries to buy Iranian oil. The European Union is expected to announce some form of ban on Iranian oil by the end of the month.

The sanctions are aimed at forcing Iran to halt its nuclear work, which the United States and its allies say is aimed at producing bombs. Iran says it is for power generation only.

The sanctions are already hurting Iranians. Faced with rising prices and a falling rial currency, they have been queuing at banks to convert savings into dollars.   Continued...