Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has embarked on a three-country tour of South America with the aim of strengthening political and economic ties with allies who oppose Western rule. The president departed Tehran on June 11 and is expected to make state visits to Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua, all countries that are also sanctioned by the United States.
Raisi’s visit comes at a time when Iran is seeking to expand its influence in the region and counter the pressure from the U.S. and its allies in the Middle East. Iran has made significant investments in Latin America, especially in the field of oil, according to an Iranian official.
Among Raisi’s three destinations, Iran enjoys the closest ties with Venezuela. The two countries signed a 20-year cooperation plan they said would take bilateral relations to a “strategic” level during a visit by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to Tehran last year, when he also met Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. For the past three years, Iran has been helping Venezuela repair and overhaul its refineries and sending shipments of heavy crude to help Caracas ramp up its production of oil and gas.
The president is accompanied by his ministers of foreign affairs, petroleum, defense, and health, along with his chief of staff and deputy for political affairs. IRNA said documents to expand bilateral cooperation will be signed between Iran and the three countries during Raisi’s visit, mentioning economic, political, and scientific issues, but without going into further detail.
Raisi’s visit also coincides with a thaw in relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia, which agreed to restore diplomatic ties in a China-brokered deal in March, something that also paved the way for Saudi rapprochement with the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s return to the Arab League. Maduro visited Saudi Arabia last week for a high-level trip as Riyadh rebuilds alliances without the blessing of its longtime ally, the U.S.