CARACAS: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad arrived in Caracas for a meeting with President Hugo Chavez, just hours after the Iranian leader stopped in La Paz for a meeting with the Bolivian leader.
Ahmadinejad and Chavez, two outspoken anti-American leaders from major oil producing countries, will meet Wednesday with the goal of increasing bilateral cooperation, officials said.
Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro welcomed Ahmadinejad at the airport, an AFP photographer reported.
An advance gathering of Iranian businessmen representing 70 companies prepared the ground in Venezuela's capital Caracas on Monday for trade discussions.
"We have a solid foundation, a solid base that we have created over this decade in our relationship, and it shows how false are the attacks of the world empire," Maduro said Monday, referring to the United States in comments broadcast by state television network VTV.
Venezuela's Jewish community expressed displeasure over Ahmadinejad's visit, issuing a statement calling the Iranian leader an "ominous" person who, if not stopped, "could cause serious harm to humanity."
His visit "gives legitimacy to a regime about which there are serious doubts over its transparency and legality," the group said.
Earlier Tuesday Ahmadinejad was in La Paz, where he met close Chavez ally President Evo Morales. The two issued a joint statement on the right of all nations to pursue nuclear energy for peaceful ends.
On the second leg of a Latin America tour of three leftist nations sympathetic to his administration, Morales welcomed Ahmadinejad at the La Paz international airport with full military honors.
A small group of feminists protested Iran's treatment of women in front of the presidential palace, as the two leaders held talks.
In a joint press conference after their meeting, Morales and Ahmadinejad expressed their alliance against "imperialism," meaning the United States.
Ahmadinejad told his host that despite the obstacles raised by imperialism "and our enemies, collaboration between our two countries grows day by day."
Morales said: "It's my experience that imperialism stifles development."
The two presidents signed a joint statement "recognizing the legitimate right of all countries to use and develop nuclear energy for peaceful ends, within the framework of international rights."
In this manner, Bolivia implicitly supported Iran's quest for nuclear energy, which many in the international community believe really masks a desire for nuclear weapons.
The leaders also signed a deal increasing Iran's involvement in mining research in Bolivia's Salar de Uyuni, a vast salt desert near the Chilean border that holds half the world's known reserves of lithium -- a key mineral used in rechargeable batteries for cell phones, laptops and electric cars.
French, Japanese and South Korean companies are competing to invest in the area, estimated to contain up to 100 million tons of lithium.
Ahmadinejad began his itinerary on Monday in Brazil, where his host President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva reiterated support for Iran's nuclear program. Lula however also urged his Iranian counterpart to pursue talks with Western countries.
Tehran should "continue contacts with interested countries for a just and balanced solution on the nuclear issue in Iran," said Lula, a moderate leftist in command of Latin America's biggest economy.