HAVANA Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Thursday both Cuba-Iranian relations and Fidel Castro were in good shape after he met with the former Cuban leader and his younger brother President Raul Castro during a one-day visit to the communist island.
He said the two countries, similarly at odds with the United States though half a world apart, were closely aligned on many issues and would continue to fight "to demand the rights of the peoples."
"Our positions, versions, interpretations are alike, very close. We have been good friends, we are and will be, and we will be together forever. Long live Cuba," Ahmadinejad said through an interpreter at the Havana airport as he departed for Ecuador, the final stop in his Latin American tour.
Such shows of solidarity were the main purpose of Ahmadinejad's trip to four leftist-led countries as Iran seeks support amid rising international opposition to its nuclear activities. He visited Venezuela and Nicaragua before coming to Cuba on Wednesday.
The leader of the Islamic Republic said he discussed many different issues in a meeting with Fidel Castro, 85 and mostly retired, and that he was happy "to see commandante Fidel safe and sound." A recent flurry of rumors on social media claimed that Castro had died.
"We see that he follows all the national and international affairs in detail and with much pleasure," he said.
President Raul Castro told reporters his brother had met with Ahmadinejad for two hours and did most of the talking. The meeting was held on Wednesday.
"It shows that he is very well, really very well," said the younger Castro, who succeeded his brother as president four years ago and is himself 80.
About his own talks with Ahmadinejad, Castro said, "It was a good visit, we discussed quite a lot, we analyzed quite a lot, we finished very late."
UNITED AGAINST SANCTIONS
Communist Party newspaper Granma said Ahmadinejad and Raul Castro confirmed their commitment to, among other things, the peaceful use of nuclear energy.
They also reaffirmed their opposition to the "application of unilateral economic sanctions."
Ahmadinjad's visit came as tensions escalated following the recent imposition of new U.S. sanctions aimed at inflicting economic damage in hopes of forcing Iran to stop its nuclear program.
Iran has said it is developing nuclear capabilities only for peaceful purposes, but the United States and its allies accuse it of wanting to create a nuclear weapon.
On Wednesday tensions rose further when an Iranian nuclear scientist was killed by a car bomb in Tehran that the Iranian government blamed on Israel and the United States. Israel declined to comment, while the United States denied any involvement.
Ahmadinejad let government officials back in Tehran do the talking about the incident while he stuck to a relatively non-controversial script in Havana.
In a speech at the University of Havana, he said Iran had done nothing to make enemies, denounced capitalism and called for a new world order based on justice and respect for all.
In retaliation for the latest sanctions, Iran has threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz, which leads out of the Gulf and is the main export route for Middle East oil. The United States, with a large naval fleet in the area, says it will ensure the strait stays open.
Similar tensions have plagued U.S.-Cuba relations since Cuba's 1959 revolution.
Cuba, which is just 90 miles from Florida, has been under a U.S. trade embargo for 50 years aimed at toppling the island's communist government.
The Caribbean island and Iran are two of four countries on the U.S. State Department's list of terrorism sponsoring countries, the others being Syria and Sudan.
(Additional reporting by Marc Frank and Nelson Acosta; Editing by Tom Brown and Vicki Allen)