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Iran to Sell Defence Equipment to Bolivia

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By Nicolas von Kospoth

As news agencies reported early this week, the attraction which the governments of Iran and Bolivia feel towards each other has now become manifest in a number of bilateral agreements in various areas, including defence. According to different sources, Bolivian Economy and Finance Minister Luis Arce announced plans to purchase different defence-related equipment from Iran.

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Bolivian President Evo Morales and his Iranian counterpart, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, signed the agreements during a recent four-day visit of the Bolivian leader to Teheran.

“We have expressed ... our interest in buying some airplanes and helicopters of Iranian manufacture, which are basically for training,” Arce told state media. The list of aircraft include the Fajr-3 four-seat training aircraft, built by Teheran-based Fajr Aviation & Composites Industry; the S-68 turboprop training aircraft, which is based on the Pilatus PC-7; the HESA Iran-140 transport aircraft, a license-built version of the Antonov An-140 for 52 passengers; as well as a four-seat version of a not further specified helicopter type.

According to Arce, the aircraft and helicopters will be used to train Bolivian Air Force pilots. The South American country’s Air Force will be supported by Iranian technicians, which will perform maintenance on the aircraft. The Bolivian Air Force operates a potpourri of aircraft of different origin, primarily for training and transport. The majority of the inventory is US-built, including 16 Bell UH-1 helicopters, a score of Cessna and Beechcraft aircraft as well as five C-130s in different configurations. A fleet of 34 Canadair T-33 Silver Stars can also be used for light attack missions.

However, since the Morales administration assumed the leadership of the Latin American country in December 2005, the relations with the United States became glacial and Morales has not contained himself from repeated attacks against the US. Indeed, hours after the agreements were signed by the two leaders, Ahmadinejad underlined the political tenor in his usual, belligerent rhetoric during a joint press conference: “Iran and Bolivia have common enemies, interests and views about resolving international issues.” According to IRNA, he continued: “We are quite acquainted with our enemy and its schemes, so [we] tread wisely.” Furthermore, the Iranian president hailed the new agreements as a step forward in helping “independent and justice-seeking nations” counter the plots hatched by their enemies.

The agreements that yield from this intensified relationship are comprehensive: In addition to the new equipment for the Bolivian Air Force, the two countries plan to deepen economic, political and scientific ties. This includes the establishment of a joint bank and the opening of a credit line. Furthermore, the two countries plan to increase industrial cooperation, and the establishment of a joint company for exploration and exploitation of lithium as well as the production of lithium batteries.

Moreover, Iran offered to support Bolivia in building a nuclear energy plant. According to Arce, no specific negotiations or discussion concerning uranium, so far, have taken place. However, Bolivian officials claim that there is a uranium deposit in the Cotaje mine, near the southern-Bolivian city Potosí. “We still haven’t talked about uranium. I think that we’re still not in shape to do so. We have to make studies, analyses and investigations to be able to speak about uranium,” the minister said. In May 2009, news emerged about a secret Israeli government report, according to which Venezuela and Bolivia supply Iran with with uranium for its nuclear programme. The report accused both Latin American countries of trying to to undermine the US and Israel by supporting Iran.

All this is news that may trouble minds within the Western leadership, as talks about the uranium extraction and growing defence co-operation between the two countries will not help to improve the political atmosphere regarding the controversial Iranian nuclear programme and Iran’s continuous provocation of the United States and its Western allies. The defence equipment which Bolivia may purchase from Iran may not be of great strategic significance. However, along with the extensive economic, financial and technological agreements, it is an unmistakable signal and contributes to further harden the fronts between “rogue states” and the “Allies”, respectively “independent and justice-seeking nations” and their “enemies”.

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