- The Washington Times - Friday, September 28, 2007

SANTA CRUZ, BoliviaIranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, en route home from a visit to New York, met yesterday in Bolivia with President Evo Morales, building Iran’s ties with leftist leaders in South America.

Local conservative opposition and business groups called the visit “dangerous,” but the criticism did little to dampen the two leaders’ enthusiasm.

Mr. Ahmadinejad arrived with plans to establish diplomatic relations and set up joint energy ventures. Bolivia is said to have significant natural gas reserves.

“I feel at home being here with my dear brother, President Evo Morales, and the people of Bolivia. This visit will be the start of fruitful relations,” Mr. Ahmadinejad said.

Mr. Morales expressed “gratitude” for the “historical encounters between our two peoples.”

Police and army troops sealed off the main avenue between the airport and the center of the capital, La Paz, as a 15-car motorcade drove the leaders to the presidential palace on Plaza Murillo.

Iranian officials requested that no women be allowed to attend events at the Iranian president’s hotel or any official ceremonies.

A spokesman for the main opposition party, Podemos, called Mr. Ahmadinejad’s visit an “imposition” by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Mr. Chavez encouraged Mr. Morales to open diplomatic relations with Iran and solidify an “anti-imperialist bloc” of energy producers. Venezuela is among the world’s top 10 oil producers.

Mr. Morales earlier announced plans to establish relations with Libya.

Podemos leader Jorge Quiroga asked Mr. Morales to cancel the Iranian president’s visit. “We risk losing important markets and economic integration mechanisms. It gives the country a bad image,” he said.

Opposition spokesmen also pointed out that six Bolivians were killed when terrorists linked to Iran blew up a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires in 1994.

“Iran has nothing to offer us in terms of cooperation, commerce or investment” Sen. Oscar Ortiz said.

Mr. Morales and Mr. Ahmadinejad appeared in front of government officials and peasant militants of Bolivia”s ruling Movement Toward Socialism at the presidential palace to sign agreements on “technology transfers” and “energy integration.”

The Bolivian leader denied that any of the deals involved nuclear technology. “These agreements are purely industrial and commercial. They are not intended to harm anyone,” Mr. Morales said.

After leaving Bolivia, Mr. Ahmadinejad was to fly to the Venezuelan capital of Caracas to meet with Mr. Chavez.

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