TEHRAN/CARACAS - Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will seek support from Latin America's leftist leaders on a tour starting on Sunday after tough new Western sanctions targeted Iran's oil industry.
With one eye on his standing at home ahead of March's parliamentary election, Ahmadinejad will meet other anti-American presidents on a trip Washington said showed Iran was "desperate for friends".
His first stop is OPEC-ally Venezuela, where Ahmadinejad has been assured a warm welcome by President Hugo Chavez. He will also visit Cuba and Ecuador and attend the inauguration of re-elected Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega.
"We are making absolutely clear to countries around the world that now is not the time to be deepening ties, not security ties, not economic ties, with Iran," US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said on Friday.