Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad met with his Ecuadoran counterpart Rafael Correa here Thursday on the last leg of a four-nation Latin American tour aimed at marshaling support for his country’s tense nuclear stand-off with the West.
Speaking through an interpreter, the Iranian leader described his host as “a brother and a friend” and said he was bringing “a message of love, affection, friendship and solidarity from a great nation called Iran to another nation, another great people.”
It was Ahmadinejad’s second visit to Ecuador — he attended Correa’s inauguration five years ago — and the two presidents were set to hold a joint press conference after private talks.
Ahmadinejad earlier flew in from Cuba, landing at an airbase in the southwestern city of Guayaquil.
The trip comes amid deep fury in Tehran over Wednesday’s killing of an Iranian nuclear scientist, with Iran demanding strong UN Security Council condemnation and saying it has evidence that unnamed “foreign quarters” were behind the hit.
Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has accused the US and Israeli intelligence services of being behind the “abominable” assassination in Tehran of nuclear scientist Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, who was to be buried Friday.
Washington has strenuously denied being involved, but tensions are rising amid escalating Western pressure to stop alleged efforts by Iran to acquire a nuclear weapons capability.
US President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke by phone Thursday to discuss the stand-off.
And a senior Russian security official warned of the “real danger” of a US military strike against Iran.
“There is a likelihood of military escalation of the conflict, and Israel is pushing the Americans towards it,” Russian Security Council secretary Nikolai Patrushev said in an interview with the Kommersant daily.
The United States and its allies accuse Iran of trying to develop nuclear weapons under the cover of its uranium enrichment program, charges denied by Tehran.
Last week, Washington warned Latin American countries against deepening their ties with Iran.
“As the regime feels increasing pressure, it is desperate for friends and flailing around in interesting places to find new friends,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said of Ahmadinejad’s tour of Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba and Ecuador.
All four countries have frosty ties with the United States, and their leaders have in the past four years made numerous Tehran visits to build up diplomatic and business links while relations with Washington have worsened.
Iran and Ecuador are both members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), and the Correa administration recently spoke out in defense of Tehran’s right to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.
In Havana Wednesday, Ahmadinejad also won backing from Cuban President Raul Castro for his country’s right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy. Iran insists its nuclear program is not aimed at building atomic weapons.
During his brief Cuban visit, the Iranian leader met with Castro as well as his 85-year-old elder brother, revolutionary icon Fidel Castro.
Ahmadinejad was scheduled to fly back from here to Tehran Friday.