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Iran's president travels to Nicaragua, Cuba, Venezuela in anti-US blitz

The visit will take the Iranian president to three leftist countries with which Tehran shares both American sanctions and a vigorous anti-American agenda.
Presidents Nicolas Maduro and Ebrahim Raisi during their meeting in Tehran. June 11, 2022

TEHRAN — Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi will depart for a Latin American tour on Sunday to bolster relations with "like-minded and friendly states" there, reported the state-run IRNA news agency.  

Accompanied by a delegation including the ministers of foreign affairs, oil and health, Raisi is scheduled to sign multiple agreements on political, trade, industrial and scientific cooperation with Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba. 

The Islamic Republic's growing tendency toward Latin America dates back to the tenure of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (2005-2013). Known for his anti-Western rhetoric, the hard-line leader relentlessly pursued partnerships with leftist Latin American states, promoting the notion of expanding Iran's influence in "America's backyard" to curtail the influence of its arch-foe.

A slew of US sanctions slapped on the Islamic Republic and those three states in recent years has created even greater common ground. Iran and Venezuela signed a 20-year partnership agreement last July, when President Nicolas Maduro visited Tehran and was lauded by Raisi for his resistance against "imperialistic sanctions and pressure."

During that visit, the two oil-rich nations clinched energy deals in which Iran committed to developing Venezuelan oil refineries among other projects.

As Iran's sympathy with the "anti-imperialist" agenda of those states has grown, they have returned the favor in part with their pro-Tehran votes in international rights bodies to counter the censoring of the Islamic Republic over its human rights record.

In Cuba, apart from bilateral trade, the two sanctions-hit countries are planning to close major deals in medical sciences and health care. Such cooperation ramped up during the coronavirus pandemic. The leading Iranian research center, Pasteur Institute, entered a joint venture with Cuba's Finlay Institute to produce a COVID-19 vaccine known in Iran as PastoCovac.

In recent years Iran has also been increasingly warming ties with Nicaragua. Only in February, President Daniel Ortega openly defended Tehran's contentious nuclear aspirations as he received Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian in the capital Managua.

During the same trip, Amir-Abdollahian signed a memorandum of understanding with his Nicaraguan counterpart, Denis Moncada, a topic expected to be pursued by the Iranian delegation in the upcoming visit.

In its quest for new allies with the aim of mitigating pressure from Western adversaries, the Islamic Republic does not appear to be merely focused on business. It has not lost sight of expanding its ideological sway as well.

"Some question the philosophy of our presence in Latin America, but there is a necessity to globalize Islam and spread it to every spot of the world," said hard-line cleric Ali Saeedi, the director of the political bureau of the office of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who holds the ultimate say and sets the tone in the overall trajectory of Iran's foreign policy.

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