Iran to join Latin American trade deal
( AP ) - Iran plans to join a Latin American initiative designed to counter U.S.-led efforts for free trade in the region, the Web site of the Iranian president's office reported Sunday as Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez visited the country.
The report said Chavez welcomed Iran's observer membership in the Cuban-Venezuelan alternative to the Free Trade Area of the Americas. It did not specify exactly what observer membership would entail, but illustrated the growing relationship between Venezuela and Iran, whose leaders have strongly condemned U.S. policies.
"The pillars of world arrogance have been shaky. Victory will be realized by resistance and steadiness," Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said while meeting with Chavez, according to the Web site.
Chavez and Cuban President Fidel Castro, another U.S. enemy, signed the deal - known by its Spanish acronym ALBA - in 2005 to counter Washington's efforts to expand free trade with Latin American countries. It contains much leftist rhetoric and few specifics, but was followed by closer economic ties between the two leaders.
Although the FTAA stalled in 2005, Washington since has signed nine free trade agreements with Latin American countries.
"Cooperation between independent countries such as Iran and Venezuela will have an effective role in defeating imperialism," the Web site quoted Chavez as saying.
Ties between Iran and Venezuela have been growing stronger. Chavez has defended Iran's disputed nuclear program, dismissing U.S. concerns that Tehran is secretly trying to develop atomic weapons.
"Political interests and close regional and international stances are among the important factors that help to continue this close cooperation," Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini told reporters Sunday during his weekly press conference.
Chavez arrived in Iran on Saturday for a two-day visit, as part of a three-nation tour after stops in Russia and Belarus. His visit is the third to Iran in the past two years.