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Ahmadinejad arrives in Venezuela

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 7:54 PM EST, Sun January 8, 2012
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad arrives in Caracas, Venezuela, on Sunday.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad arrives in Caracas, Venezuela, on Sunday.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad begins a four-nation Latin America tour
  • His trip is meant to strengthen ties between Iran and the region
  • Ahmadinejad will also visit Nicaragua, Ecuador and Cuba this week

Caracas, Venezuela (CNN) -- Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad arrived in Venezuela on Sunday, his first stop on a four-nation trip to Latin America meant to strengthen ties between Iran and the region.

He arrived about 6:30 p.m. ET, and was met at the airport by Venezuelan Vice President Elias Jaua.

Ahmadinejad walked off the plane and down a red carpet, flanked by officials in white uniforms, images on state television showed.

It's no coincidence that Venezuela is Ahmadinejad's first stop. Despite their cultural differences, Venezuela and Iran have found significant common ground: both are among the world's top crude oil exporters, and their leaders have become strong allies united by a fierce opposition to what they view as U.S. imperialism.

The two nations have already signed more than 270 accords, including trade deals, construction projects, car and tractor factories, energy initiatives, and banking programs.

See more details about Iran's Latin America ties

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has also helped the Islamic republic forge relationships with other members of the Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas, an eight-nation regional bloc Chavez founded.

Still, not everyone in Venezuela was happy with Ahmadinejad's visit. Even before he arrived, the president's plans for a Latin America tour grabbed global attention as tensions grow between many Western powers and Iran over the nation's nuclear program.

Diego Arria, an opposition politician who is a presidential pre-candidate, described the trip as a "provocation" to the United States, and an embarrassment for Venezuela.

"It comes at the worst moment -- at a time when Ahmadinejad is being looked at by the international community with great fear. ... It's bringing the threat to the United States closer to home," he said.

The Iranian president is scheduled to visit Nicaragua, Ecuador and Cuba later this week.

CNN's Luis Carlos Velez contributed to this report.

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