Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif
Mohammad Javad Zarif

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif wrapped up a whirlwind tour of six Latin American countries this week, aiming to strengthen trade and cooperation with the region.

Newly emerged from a straitjacket of sanctions imposed by the United States to quash Iran’s alleged nuclear ambitions, the Middle East country is understandably keen to expand trade ties and cooperation with other countries.

With limited opportunities to do that in its immediate vicinity, where countries are either allied with the United States or being battered by a U.S.-led coalition, Iran is looking elsewhere.

Latin America’s progressive governments, which tend to establish independent foreign policies not dictated by the United States, seem like potential partners.

That description fits nearly all the countries on the itinerary of the Iranian foreign minister: Cuba, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Bolivia and Venezuela, with middle-of-the-road Chile being the exception.

Iran’s English news network Press TV noted as much, saying “Iran and Venezuela have forged friendly relations based on their aversion to colonial U.S. policies and determination to preserve their independence.”

It also reported “a new dynamic era” in Iran-Venezuela ties, saying the two countries have signed six agreements on scientific, technological, economic and health cooperation.

Oil provides more ground for cooperation.

After meeting with Zarif, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said his country will announce “consensus reached with Iran on ways to stabilize the oil market and strengthen OPEC,” Press TV said, referring to the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.

Zarif traveled with a sizable business delegation of more than 100 public and private sector representatives from various industries, including oil and gas, land and maritime transport, automobiles and dairy foods, as well as financing agencies.

In Cuba, which has been battling U.S.-imposed sanctions of its own for half a century, Iran has another potential partner.

On Monday, the first Iran-Cuba economic forum was held in Havana to explore joint business opportunities.

“Both Cuba and Iran have reached a roadmap after years of sanctions which they should use to explore new economic opportunities and take advantage of each other’s capabilities,” Press TV cited Cuba’s Minister of Foreign Trade and Investment, Rodrigo Malmierca, as saying.

While the two countries have been politically close since Iran’s revolutionary government came to power, there has been little chance for bilateral cooperation until now.

In an indication the two countries are serious about strengthening ties, the week prior to Zarif’s visit, Cuban Economy Minister Ricardo Cabrisas traveled to Tehran and met with President Hassan Rouhani and other senior officials.

In Nicaragua’s capital Managua, Zarif noted “political ties between the two countries are excellent and given that, I hope we can extend economic and trade ties between the two peoples. That’s why I am accompanied by a delegation from the state and private sectors.”

Iran is looking to “expand ties in all fields,” including industry, mining, agriculture, medicine, science and construction, where Nicaragua’s proposed canal project has piqued interest, said Zarif.

“In the construction sector, we already have the presence of Iranian friends and business people who can work jointly on this grand project called the Interoceanic Canal … in the same vein, the energy sector is willing to collaborate with Nicaraguan friends in the construction of hydroelectric plants and other renewable energies,” said Zarif.

Iran’s top diplomat met with representatives of ProNicaragua, the country’s export promotion agency; the Finance Ministry; and Nicaragua’s Interoceanic Grand Canal project.

In Ecuador’s capital Quito, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa celebrated the recent lifting of sanctions on Iran, saying it opened opportunities to increase trade.

“Before, due to the unjust sanctions, we wanted to sell more bananas (to Iran), but that was (seen as) financing terrorism,” said Correa, adding that meat was another product his country aimed to export to the Middle East nation.

A bilateral Iran-Ecuador trade committee will hold its first meeting in the last quarter of the year, Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Guillaume Long said, adding Ecuador is about to open a trade office in Iran’s capital Tehran.

Ecuador exports a range of products to Iran, including bananas, wood, roses and fruit puree, and hopes to expand the list to include coffee, cocoa, tuna and other goods.

During Zarif’s visit, Bolivia and Iran signed a science and technology cooperation agreement, with a focus on space research, Havana-based news agency Prensa Latina reported.

“The Bolivian Space Agency (ABE) and its Iranian counterpart seek to develop and expand space science and technology for peaceful purposes and bilateral benefit,” the agency said.

ABE Director Ivan Zambrana and Iran’s Ambassador to La Paz Reza Tabatabaei Shafiei signed the memorandum of understanding.

Bolivia’s President Evo Morales is betting on technology and innovation to drive development in one of Latin America’s poorest nations. Enditem

Source: Xinhua/News Ghana

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