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Sunday, January 8, 2012

Iran’s leader looks to Latin America for support global sanctions grow.

To complain from Brazil is on Iranian dinner tables. An Iranian-built hospital treats patients near Bolivia's capital. Iranian-funded factories dot the Venezuelan countryside.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is courting Latin America on a four-nation tour starting Sunday that will let him tout some of Iran’s few friendships while tensions grow over the country’s threats to block oil shipments in retaliation for tighter U.S. sanctions. His government finds itself largely isolated in the standoff over its nuclear program, and the new sanctions targeting Iran’s Central Bank and oil industry have triggered an abrupt drop in the nation’s currency. Iran’s growing economic ties with Latin America could give it some breathing space from the sanctions, and by embracing Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and his allies.
The Islamic republic has forged hundreds of agreements with Latin American nations and pledged billions of dollars to fund them.
More deals could be in store next week as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad embarks on a trip that starts in Venezuela Sunday and includes stops in Nicaragua, Ecuador and Cuba.
Well before the Iranian leader's arrival in Caracas, his plans for a Latin America tour have grabbed global attention as tensions grow between many Western powers and Iran over the nation's nuclear program.
"As the regime feels increasing pressure, it is desperate for friends and flailing around in interesting places to find new friends," U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters Friday.
Iran's state-run Press TV described cooperation with Latin American nations as one of the "top priorities of the Islamic Republic's foreign policy" in a recent article about next week's trip.
"Iran has an extremely active diplomatic move afoot," said Larry Birns, director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs in Washington.

US Navy: Iran Fishing Boat Rescued From Suspected Pirates
The political tensions between the U.S. and Iran over transit in and around the Persian Gulf gave way Friday to photos of rescued Iranian fisherman happily wearing American Navy ball caps.
The fishermen were rescued by a U.S. Navy destroyer Thursday, more than 40 days after their boat was commandeered by suspected Somali pirates in the northern Arabian Sea. The rescue came just days after Tehran warned the U.S. to keep its warships out of the Persian Gulf – an irony not lost on U.S. officials who trumpeted the news on Friday.
"We think it's very doubtful that the Iranians or the pirates were aware of recent events of the last couple days," Rear Adm. Craig S. Faller, commander of the U.S. Navy Carrier Strike Group involved in the rescue, told reporters by phone Friday. "Once we released them (the fishermen) today they went on their way very happily, I might add, waving to us wearing USS Kidd Navy ball caps."
Online previews of upcoming programming include videos showing scenic stretches of Iranian countryside, bustling marketplaces and Persian calligraphy. An analyst on one program criticizes Western imperialism, saying "five countries cannot decide the destiny of the world." A guest on another show slams U.S. immigration laws.
Spanish-language headlines on the network's website this week described Israeli spies, foreign intervention in Syria, a report that Japan plans to "disobey" U.S. sanctions against Iran and an allegation that airport security screening machines in the United States cause death.
Last year, Iran received the lowest ranking out of nine countries in the Latinobarometro public opinion survey, based on interviews of more than 20,000 residents in 18 Latin American countries (not including Cuba). Only 25% of those surveyed said they viewed Iran as "good" or "very good," while 72% said they viewed the United States positively.
"I think with Iran, it's a question of trust as to what are they up to, and what are their nuclear objectives," Johnson said.

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