Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is expected Monday in Brasilia as part of a five nation tour to Africa and South America to boost ties with Latinamerica's biggest economy and a rare backer of Tehran's right to develop a nuclear programme.
His visit comes days after Israeli president Shimon Peres ended a tour of Brazil and Argentina aimed at rallying support against Tehran.
“Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will visit Brazil, Bolivia, Venezuela, Senegal and Gambia” the official Iranian news agency IRINN reported Saturday. Gambia is the first leg of the five-day trip, followed by Brazil, Bolivia and Venezuela.
Since coming to power in 2005, Ahmadinejad has sought to form bonds with South American leaders, and enjoys brotherly ties with fiercely anti-US Hugo Chavez, president of Brazil's neighbour, Venezuela.
Nations such as Iran, Brazil, Venezuela, Gambia and Senegal have the ability to restore a new world order, Ahmadinejad said before leaving Tehran.
Highlighting Tehran's growing ties with Brazil, Ahmadinejad said: Iran and Brazil have a common vision about the situation in the world and are determined to develop their cooperation.
The United States and Israel feel uneasy about the growing influence of Teheran in South America and fear Venezuela and Bolivia might be in the process of providing uranium to Iran for its controversial nuclear program.
Brazilian President Lula da Silva has backed Iran's nuclear development program as long as it is peaceful, as Brazil seeks to up its diplomatic profile by playing a mediating role in the Middle East.
After Iran’s ambassador to Brazil announced that Ahmadinejad and a large entourage of 110 representatives from 65 companies were to visit Brasilia, US Secretary of State described the development as “quite disturbing”.
Lula da Silva, who hosted Israeli President Shimon Peres earlier this month, is firmly against sanctions on Iran over its nuclear defiance and has called for diplomacy and talks.
The official line in Brasilia is that US-led criticism of Iran was reminiscent of Washington's fallacious justification for the war in Iraq. Even today, those leaders in favour of the war in Iraq are unable to explain why they invaded if there were no chemical weapons. Well, I am seeing the same sort of things starting to happen over Iran Lula da Silva was quoted by the international press.
Iran is already under three sets of UN sanctions over its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment. Ahead of the visit, Ahmadinejad welcomed Brasilia's support for Tehran's nuclear drive.
While there is an unfair polemic in Western countries against Iran's peaceful nuclear programme, the people of Brazil side with the Iranian people, Ahmadinejad said in a statement.
If the Brazilian people and the Iranian people are united on issues such as the Zionist regime's cruel attack on the defenceless people of Gaza, this will show a mutual desire for peace, he added.
During the visit Ahmadinejad is expected to discuss cooperation in the areas of technology, oil production and space exploration.
In his trip to Bolivia, which sits on South America's second largest natural gas reserves, Ahmadinejad and his counterpart Evo Morales will hold a private meeting and sign bilateral agreements, La Paz has said.
And in Venezuela, the Iranian hardliner is expected to receive a warm welcome given his good relations with Chavez, as the two leaders are known for their populist economic policies and strong anti-US tirades.
Chavez, who also backs Tehran's nuclear program, has been a regular visitor to Iran. Since Ahmadinejad disputed re-election last June the regime has been challenged by mass protests by opposition supporters charging the polls were rigged and internationally condemned for its violent suppression of protests. Chavez has supported all along the legitimacy of Iranian polls and the victory of his friend Ahmadinejad.
Both Shimon Peres and Ahmadinejad visits have been anticipated by street protest demonstrations. In Argentina, protestors carried placards which read Get out of Argentina, murderer Shimon Peres, Death to Zionist-fascist Israel, officer of American imperialism in the Middle East, murderers of the Palestinian people!
In Sao Paulo, Brazil, the Israeli President had been hailed as Shimon Hitler, during protests. Demonstrators carried placards showing Peres, sporting a short Hitlerian moustache standing next to an Israeli flag upon which a swastika had been drawn.
In the eve of the arrival of the Iranian president to Brasilia hhundreds of Jewish and non-Jewish Brazilians protested in Rio de Janeiro and other main cities.
Jews, homosexuals, Afro-Brazilians, Gypsies, students, human rights activists and members of several other groups carried banners and posters that read Mr. President: freedom of expression, explain it to your guest, The Holocaust didn't happen? and Denying the Holocaust is like denying there was slavery in Brazil.
One of the organizers of the march, Victor Grinbaum of the Zionist Articulation group, said that Ahmadinejad's visit to Brazil challenges our country's tradition, for we are an example of a liberal, multiracial and peaceful society. Neither diplomacy or commercial pragmatism justify such an invitation because Ahmadinejad exports hatred.
Ahmadinejad is not only a threat for Jews, blacks and homosexuals; he is a threat for democracy. We're here united to defend a free world.
Similar marches were held over the week in several other Brazilian cities. In Sao Paulo, some thousands of protesters gathered at a major city square. On Saturday, a small airplane flew over the same Ipanema beach with the message Ahmadinejad: Respect human rights and don't come back.
Argentina and Brazil have the largest Jewish communities in Latinamerica