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Iran leader calls for ‘solidarity,’ ‘justice’ during Nicaragua visit

MANAGUA – Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Tuesday that his country was “fighting to establish solidarity and justice,” as international concern rose over Iran’s growing nuclear ambitions.

Ahmadinejad greeted his “revolutionary brother (President Daniel) Ortega” in Nicaragua, where he was to attend the ex-rebel’s inauguration to a third term Tuesday, the second stop on a tour of Latin American allies.

“These two peoples, in different parts of the Earth, are fighting to establish solidarity and justice,” Ahmadinejad said.

The Iranian leader dismissed Western fears about a growing nuclear row as “something to laugh about,” on Monday night in Venezuela.

The IAEA’s confirmation Monday that Iran had begun enriching uranium in a new, underground bunker was seized upon by the United States, Britain, France and Germany as an unacceptable “violation” of UN Security Council resolutions.

But while Iran downplayed the significance of the Fordo site – and said it was ready to resume nuclear talks with world powers that collapsed a year ago – it continues to send tough signals to its longtime foe, the United States.

On Monday, a Revolutionary Court in Tehran sentenced a U.S. former Marine, Amir Mirzai Hekmati, to death after convicting him of being a CIA spy.

And international fears are rising over a threat by Iranian officials to close the Strait of Hormuz, a major oil shipping lane, if threatened by military action or if Western sanctions halt oil exports.

The United States and European Union are moving to apply further sanctions over Iran’s nuclear program, which Tehran insists exists solely for peaceful purposes.

China, which rejects sanctions, warned Tuesday of disastrous consequences if the Iranian nuclear row escalated into conflict.

In Latin America, Venezuela’s relationship with Iran raises the deepest strategic concerns for the West, although Tehran has the strongest economic ties with Brazil, notably absent from Ahmadinejad’s itinerary.

In a provocative throwback to his Cold War relations with the United States, Ortega invited Ahmadinejad as a special guest to his inauguration.

Although the Nicaraguan former revolutionary has moderated his socialist rhetoric since governing in the 1980s, he still riles the United States, while respecting a free trade accord and receiving U.S. aid.

Many analysts believe Ortega’s relationship with Iran has so far produced little more than symbolism and rhetoric, while risking US ties.

But Ortega, 66, is riding a wave of popular support at home, after winning reelection with 62 percent of the vote in November and a super majority in Congress for his Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN).

His latest term saw economic growth despite the global crisis, although the country of almost six million remains the poorest in the Americas after Haiti.

Ortega counts on $500 million of annual aid from firebrand Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to help fund popular programs for the poor.

Chavez was also due at the inauguration ceremony in Managua’s Revolution Square.

Doubts about Ortega’s reelection, which went against the constitution, and alleged flaws in the vote explained how only a small number of foreign heads of state would attend.

Ahmadinejad was due to meet President Raul Castro in Cuba on Wednesday, before traveling to Ecuador on Thursday. Rumors persist that he also will attend the inauguration of new Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina.

Ecuador’s Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino defended Iran on Tuesday, calling for respect for “the right for the peaceful use of nuclear energy.”

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