June 4, 2007 / 12:29 AM / 12 years ago

Nicaragua president to visit Iran in Gaddafi's jet

Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega (L) greets Iran's Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki during a meeting in Managua April 21, 2007. REUTERS/Oswaldo Rivas

MANAGUA, Nicaragua (Reuters) - Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, who has raised eyebrows in Washington by forging ties with Iran, said on Sunday he will travel to the country aboard a jet on loan from Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

Ortega, a Cold War-era enemy of Washington who is an ally of U.S. antagonist Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, told reporters he was leaving for Caracas, the first stop in a 10-day tour that will take him to Iran, Algeria, Libya and Cuba.

Ortega said longtime U.S. critic Gaddafi loaned him a jet to cut the cost of the trip. He said he would also make a stop in Italy, but did not reveal his itinerary.

The Iran visit will focus in part on getting businessmen to invest in Nicaraguan factories that build tractors and other agricultural equipment, Ortega said.

“We want to improve relations with Iran in all fields, in all areas,” he said.

A former Marxist guerrilla who fought U.S.-backed Contra rebels during his 1980s government, Ortega has reached out to Iran since recapturing the presidency this year. He has hosted Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Managua.

Ortega is seeking more aid from the United States, but he said Washington cannot stop him talking to anti-U.S. leaders.

He played down any possible negative impact on U.S.-Nicaragua relations from his visit to Iran, which is at loggerheads with Washington over its atomic program and its detention of American citizens.

“We are not asking permission from any country, from any president about who we meet, when we meet or what we talk about,” he said. “It is a sovereign decision and the North American government understands that very well.”

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