World News

Iran, Nicaragua deepen links despite U.S. concerns

MANAGUA (Reuters) - Iranian government officials met leftist President Daniel Ortega on Wednesday for the third time this year as Nicaragua seeks help for its energy crisis in a deepening of ties with Tehran that worries the United States.

Ortega, a former Marxist guerrilla and Cold War veteran who won power for a second time in January, is eager for assistance in helping end energy blackouts that threaten his support.

Despite U.S. warnings, Ortega is building alliances with anti-Washington countries such as Venezuela and Iran, which are flush with cash from high world oil prices and eager to win friends in Latin America.

Ortega met Iranian Deputy Energy Minister Hamid Chitchian on Wednesday to try to convince Iran to help build several hydroelectric plants in Nicaragua as the impoverished country grapples with long daily blackouts.

“Iran has an enormous expertise in generating hydroelectric energy. Equally, it has a huge capacity in energy distribution,” Ortega said as he received the Iranian delegation.

The visit followed Ortega’s trip to Iran in June and a visit to Managua in January by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, an archfoe of Washington.

Nicaragua is also seeking to persuade Iran to finance a $350 million port on the country’s Caribbean coast, where it lacks any port infrastructure.

Iran has yet to commit to any project but Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has sent large electricity generators to Nicaragua this year that have helped shorten the blackouts.

Ortega, who insists he wants good relations with Washington, has also upgraded ties with U.S. enemies Cuba and North Korea since he was sworn in almost 17 years after voters threw him out of office.