Iran: uranium site nearly operational; Ahmadinejad heads to Latin America

Ahmadinejad was first to see Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, whom he called “a hero in the struggle against the oppression.” (Reuters)

Iran’s underground uranium enrichment facility will go on stream soon, a senior official was quoted by Iranian media on Sunday as saying, a move likely to increase tension between the Islamic state and the West over Tehran's nuclear ambitions.

“The Fordow nuclear enrichment plant will be operational in the near future ... 20 percent, 3.5 percent and four percent enriched uranium can be produced at this site,” said the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization Fereydoun Abbasi Davani, the Kayhan daily reported.

Meanwhile, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad left on Sunday for a five-day Latin American tour taking in countries that share his deep antipathy to the United States, which is leading sanctions against Tehran.

His trip was to take him to Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba and Ecuador ̶ all countries that “resist the oppression” of the United States and share “an anti-colonialist view,” he said just before flying out, according to the Fars news agency.

“Latin America is a region that the oppressive regime (the United States) sees as its backyard where it can do as it likes. But today the people have awoken and are acting independently,” he said.
Ahmadinejad was first to see Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, whom he called “a hero in the struggle against the oppression.”

He was then to attend the swearing-in of recently re-elected Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, who he said was leading the Nicaraguan people in “their revolution (that) is the same as the Iranian revolution.”

In his last stop, fellow OPEC member Ecuador, he was to speak with the ruling “revolutionaries who battle the (U.S.) regime of domination.”

In all the countries, including Cuba, he planned to sign deals, he said.

Regional and international issues would be discussed, along with “the aims of the (U.S.) regime of domination to interfere in the affairs of other countries and its military presence" around the world, Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying.

The United States on Friday urged Latin American countries not to deepen 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.

The United States is leading a campaign to isolate Iran economically through sanctions to punish it for its nuclear program.

Washington believes the nuclear activities are being used to develop an atomic bomb, despite Tehran’s repeated denials.

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