Iran and Bolivia seek more energy, other cooperation
September 2, 2008 - Reuters

Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Charles Dick

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran wants to expand ties with Bolivia in oil, gas and other fields and is expected to sign agreements on Tuesday to boost cooperation during a visit by Bolivian President Evo Morales, Iranian media reported.

Morales, who came to Tehran on Monday, is making a two-day trip to the Islamic Republic, the latest sign of strengthening ties between Iran and leftist South American governments.

Bolivia, which has strong ties with the government of Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, is one of several South American states to improve ties with Tehran, causing some concern in Washington.

"Iran is interested in expanding relations with Bolivia in all fields," Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told Morales, the official IRNA news agency reported.

Ahmadinejad said the two countries could cooperate in the fields of oil, gas, refinery construction, oil exploration, agricultural equipment and dairy plants, IRNA said.

The Iranian president said the two sides would sign cooperation agreements, but did not give details. Morales said he wanted to boost political ties, commerce and investment.

Despite substantial reserves, Bolivia is struggling to meet commitments to pump natural gas to Argentina and Brazil.

Iran is the world's fourth largest oil producer and also sits on the world's second biggest reserves of gas. It has also been slow to develop gas exports partly because of U.S. sanctions that hinder access to some vital gas technologies.

Ahmadinejad, seeking support to help fend off pressure in a nuclear row with the West, visited Bolivia last year. Ahmadinejad pledged $1 billion in assistance to the South American nation on that trip.

Iran, a sworn enemy of the United States, is embroiled in a row over its nuclear plans, which Washington says are aimed at building bombs despite Tehran's denials. The U.N. Security Council has imposed sanctions on Iran because of the row.

"I admire the wisdom and resistance of the Bolivian nation, which has stood up in the heart of Latin America to defend its freedom, honor and interest," Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying.

Morales is locked in a standoff with rightist rivals over his plan for a referendum on a new constitution. Opponents say Morales is trying to use the new constitution to stay in power perpetually.

"My visit to Iran is in response to last year's visit of President Ahmadinejad to Bolivia and this means that our political relations will further expand in the future," Morales was quoted as saying.