Iran and Bolivia pledge cooperation, defying U.S.


TEHRAN, Sept 2 (Reuters) - The presidents of Iran and Bolivia said on Tuesday they would fight against "imperialism" and strengthen ties, brushing aside U.S. concerns about improving relations between the Islamic Republic and leftist South American governments.

Iranian media had reported that Iran wanted to expand cooperation with Bolivia in oil, gas and other fields. State media on Tuesday said agreements were signed during a two-day visit by Bolivian President Evo Morales but gave no details.

Bolivia, a close ally of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, is one of several South American states to improve relations with Tehran, causing some concern in Washington.

Iran, a sworn enemy of the United States, is embroiled in a row over its nuclear plans, which Washington says are aimed at building bombs despite Tehran's denials.

"No country and no force can affect our relationship with revolutionary Iran," Morales told a televised news conference with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

In a statement, the two countries pledged to struggle against "imperialism". Both presidents said the U.N. Security Council should not interfere in Iran's peaceful nuclear plans, the state broadcaster's website reported.

"It is only through unity of our countries we can be powerful," said Morales, whose comments were translated by Iran's English-language Press TV.

Ahmadinejad, who often rails against the United States, said Iran and Bolivia had close ideals.

"We are with one another and we will help each other out," he said.

In a clear reference to the United States, Iran's president said: "Of course when it comes to the enemies of our nations, we will again be close to one is not important some governments don't like our relationship."

Ahmadinejad on Monday said the two countries could cooperate in the fields of oil, gas, refinery construction, oil exploration, agricultural equipment and dairy plants.

Morales, who arrived in Tehran on Monday, said he wanted to boost political ties, commerce and investment.

Despite substantial reserves, Bolivia is struggling to meet commitments to pump natural gas to Argentina and Brazil.

Iran is the world's fourth largest oil producer and also sits on the world's second biggest reserves of gas. It has also been slow to develop gas exports partly because of U.S. sanctions that hinder access to some vital gas technologies.

Ahmadinejad, seeking support to help fend off pressure in a nuclear row with the West, visited Bolivia last year. He pledged $1 billion in assistance to the country, one of the poorest in the Americas, on that trip.

At home, Morales is locked in a standoff with rightist rivals over his plan for a referendum on a new constitution. Opponents say Morales is trying to use the new constitution to stay in power perpetually.

His friendship with Chavez, who is using Venezuela's oil wealth to promote socialism throughout Latin America and counter traditional U.S. influence, has also alarmed the Bush administration in Washington.