- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 20, 2007

SANTA CRUZ, BoliviaBolivian President Evo Morales announced plans to establish diplomatic ties with Iran last week following the advice of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who is working closely with the Iranian government to gain control of South America”s energy resources, according to high-level analysts.

“Bolivia and Iran are two friendly and revolutionary countries, and we plan to strengthen ties” said Mr. Morales, who pointed out that other Latin American countries, including Chile, Colombia and Mexico, have diplomatic relations with Iran.

Earlier, Mr. Morales met with Iran”s ambassador to Venezuela, Abdollah Zifan, who traveled to Bolivia to sign several cooperation and exchange agreements. Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca simultaneously visited Tehran to meet with his Iranian counterpart, Manouchehr Mottaki.

Mr. Zifan, who is reported to be the Iranian government”s chief diplomat in Latin America, said “intensified cooperation with Venezuela in energy fields would also be applied in Bolivia through transfers of technology and know-how.”

Bolivia’s natural gas reserves, estimated at 200 trillion cubic feet, are South America”s second largest after Venezuela and provide a critical source of energy to Brazil and Argentina, the continent”s two largest economies.

Iran has signed joint industrial and commercial projects with Venezuela worth $17 billion, according to Mr. Chavez, who invited Mr. Morales and Mr. Zifan recently to join him in his weekly television chat show, “Hello President.”

Mr. Chavez spoke of forming joint government enterprises between Venezuela, Bolivia and Iran to replace multinational corporations and announced a forthcoming meeting between Mr. Morales and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is scheduled to make his third visit to Venezuela in the next few weeks.

“Iran is seeking to gain geopolitical control in the Western Hemisphere with the aid of Venezuela. They will eventually be able to place and replace governments, a high-level Bolivian energy official, Ivan Fernandez, told The Washington Times.

According to Mr. Fernandez, who served under the current government as the Energy Ministry”s director of exploration and planning, 80 percent of Bolivia”s hydrocarbon areas have been signed over to Venezuela.

Following his announcement to establish formal ties with Iran last week, Mr. Morales accused multinational companies and the U.S. of trying to destabilize his government by financing opposition groups. He threatened to expel the companies from Bolivia and take over the full operation of their gas fields which were nationalized over a year ago.

Mr. Chavez has encouraged other leftist leaders to strengthen ties with Iran, including Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, who visited Tehran in May by a plane loaned by Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.

Mr. Chavez also arranged an invitation for Mr. Ahmadinejad to attend this year”s presidential inauguration of Rafael Correa in Ecuador, another important South American energy producer.

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