Iran’s new president, Hasan Rouhani, said at his inauguration Sunday that one of his top priorities is to deepen ties with Latin America, and with Cuba in particular.
Rouhani met with Cuba’s vice president, Ricardo Cabrisas, according to published reports, to reiterate his country’s commitment to expanding its alliance with the island nation.
Cabrisas was one of dozens of officials who attended Rouhani’s inauguration. Other Latin American nations that were represented by high-level officials were Venezuela, Nicaragua and Brazil.
In his meeting with Cabrisas, Rouhani said that economic ties between Iran and Cuba were very important to him.
Top officials from Iran have made several visits to Cuba in recent years to discuss joint economic projects and to strengthen political ties. Iran has denounced the U.S. embargo on Cuba and Cuba has defended Iran’s nuclear programs.
About two years ago, former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Cuban President Raul Castro signed statements supporting “the right of all nations to the peaceful use of nuclear energy.”
The United States has said that Iran nuclear energy program really aims to develop weapons, which Iran denies.
On Sunday, Rouhani said: “Transparency is the key to open the doors of trust” with other nations. “Iran has never sought war with the world and we will focus on stopping those who seek war.”
Two year ago, President Barack Obama reiterated long-term U.S. concerns about Iran's nuclear program and allegations that Iran's government supports terrorism. He also raised alarms about Iran’s growing presence in Latin America, taking particular note of Venezuela.
"Ultimately, it is up to the Venezuelan people to determine what they gain from a relationship with a country that violates universal human rights and is isolated from much of the world," Obama said. "Here in the Americas, we take Iranian activities, including in Venezuela, very seriously and we will continue to monitor them closely."
The U.S. State Department slapped sanctions on Venezuela's state oil company for selling gasoline components to Iran.
Meanwhile, the Iranian president’s vow to expand his nation’s presence in Latin American, and Cuba, specifically, comes on the heels of the discovery of a North Korean-flagged ship that carried undeclared arms from Cuba.
On Friday, crews unloading the ship, which was detained in the Panama Canal, reported found live munitions on board.
Explosive-sniffing dogs found ammunition for grenade launchers and other unidentified types on munitions, said Panamanian anti-drug prosecutor Javier Caraballo, who did not specify the amount of munitions.
The ship, Chong Chon Gang, was headed from Cuba to North Korea when it was seized in the canal July 15 based on intelligence that it may have been carrying drugs. The manifest said it was carrying 10,000 tons of sugar, but Cuban military equipment was found beneath the sacks. No drugs have been found so far.