Ahmadinejad Heads to Rio+20, Bolivia, Venezuela

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will embark next week on a tour of Latin America including stops in Brazil for the Rio+20 summit, as well as Bolivia and Venezuela, his office said on Saturday.

Ahmadinejad would stay in Brazil for two days, where he would meet world leaders on the sidelines of the summit on sustainable development, Mohammad Reza Forqani, a presidency official, told ISNA news agency.

The Iranian leader would stop in Bolivia on his way to Brazil to discuss "the development of bilateral relations" with his counterpart Evo Morales, said Forqani.

The last leg of his tour would take him to Venezuela for a "brief" stop to hold talks with President Hugo Chavez.

Forqani did not provide any further details.

Under escalating pressure from the West over its disputed nuclear programme, Iran has sought closer political and economic relations with countries outside the Western hemisphere.

Ahmadinejad has had some success in doing this, particularly with Venezuela, whose president has visited Iran nine times in 13 years.

On his last tour of Latin America, Ahmadinejad visited Venezuela, Nicaragua, Ecuador and Cuba in January, when he secured the backing of his allies in Tehran's nuclear standoff with the West.

In 2009, he visited Brazil. He also stopped in Ecuador and Venezuela to shore up support.

The UN-sponsored Rio+20 summit, expected to be attended by 116 world leaders on June 20-22, will debate prospects for a "green" economy that can balance economic growth with poverty eradication and protection of the environment.

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