Tehran, Iran – Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi has started a three-country tour of South America with the aim of bolstering political and economic ties with allies who oppose Western rule.
The president departed Tehran in the early hours of Monday and is expected to make state visits to Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua, all countries that are also sanctioned by the United States.
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Iranian state media said the five-day tour will begin with a visit to Venezuela. This is Raisi’s 13th foreign trip in the 21 months since the start of his presidency.
The president is accompanied by his ministers of foreign affairs, petroleum, defence and health, along with his chief of staff and deputy for political affairs.
“Relations between the Islamic Republic of Iran and independent countries in Latin America are strategic. The position of us and these three countries is to stand against imperialism and unilateralism,” Raisi said before departing.
Among Raisi’s three destinations, Iran enjoys the closest ties with Venezuela.
The two countries signed a 20-year cooperation plan they said would take bilateral relations to a “strategic” level during a visit by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to Tehran last year, when he also met Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
For the past three years, Iran has been significantly boosting its energy cooperation with Caracas, among other things helping repair and overhaul Venezuelan refineries and sending shipments of heavy crude to help Venezuela ramp up its production of oil and gas.
The two countries also aim to increase cooperation in agriculture, science and technology, shipping, automotive and tourism sectors while increasing flights and strengthening cultural ties.
The Raisi visit comes one week after Maduro arrived in Saudi Arabia for a high-level trip as Riyadh rebuilds alliances without the blessing of its longtime ally, the United States.
Iran and Saudi Arabia agreed to restore diplomatic relations in a China-brokered deal in March, something that also paved the way for Saudi rapprochement with the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s return to the Arab League.
Tehran’s most notable recent collaboration with Cuba came when the two worked together in organising a production line for one of Havana’s COVID-19 vaccines in Iran.
Last month, a Cuban delegation was in Tehran and signed 13 agreements that Iranian officials said encompass cooperation on biotechnology, healthcare, trade, banking, agriculture and sports.
Like Iran, Nicaragua has also been increasingly targeted by US and European sanctions after a government crackdown on protests in 2018, and Managua has been cosying up to Beijing, having recognised China’s right to Taiwan.
According to IRNA, the official news agency of the Iranian government, Raisi aims to follow up on previously signed agreements and discuss devising new cooperation roadmaps.
“Selecting Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba as our president’s first destinations for the Latin American tour is no accident, and in a transition period to a multipolar era, the fact that the names of these countries align in the list of governments opposed to US hegemony stands out the most,” it said.