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Cuban President Fidel Castro has declared the Islamic Republic of Iran a “bulwark of independence and dignity” during his visit to the nation, according to official Cuban sources.

Castro’s three-day visit to Iran, according to Cuban ambassador Darrio de Urra Torriente, is “extremely important,” and demonstrates the “continuation of close relations between the two countries.” Cooperation between Havana and Tehran, already at a high level, is expected to increase further and include Cuban and Iranian involvement in a number of “joint projects.”

The statements were carried by Radio Habana Cuba, the official broadcasting service of the Cuban government.

Castro praised Iran as “very different” from the era when Iran was a close ally of the United States. Iran, according to Castro, played a “role for U.S. imperialism” as the region’s “principal gendarme.”

“Today’s Iran is very different, having become the main bulwark of independence and dignity,” Castro declared.

Torriente described both Cuba and Iran as playing “dynamic and important roles in the movement of nonaligned nations,” and predicted that following Castro’s visit to Iran, “positive results … will be seen in the near future.”

Cuba was a founding member of the so-called Nonaligned Movement, which was originally founded in 1961 as an organization representing nations claiming to belong neither to Soviet nor Western blocs. The organization states that it continues to work for measures to improve economic and political status of member nations.

Cuba and Iran are leaders in the “Group of 77,” or G-77, an international association of underdeveloped nations. Cuba represents the group’s interests in Rome and Geneva; Iran is active in Austria and the U.N.

During the April 2000 G-77 summit of heads of state in Havana, Castro insisted that, “the current economic world order should be placed on trial in an international legal process similar to the Nuremberg trials.”

Referring to the underdeveloped nations located predominantly in the Southern Hemisphere, Castro called upon “the South to revive the spirit of struggle and unity that in the past helped the Third World achieve its independence from the First World.”

Both Cuba and Iran have been consistently condemned for human-rights violations, most recently by the U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists. Cuba is among the top ten “worst enemies of the press,” while Iran tops the list, according to a report from the BBC.

Also appearing on the “enemies of the press” list are two of Cuba and Iran’s staunchest supporters, China and Russia.

In March 2001, both Russia and Iran signed a comprehensive friendship treaty, as well as accords to increase trade and arms purchases. Regarding arms sales to Iran, Russian President Vladimir Putin sought to assure the world that Iran’s purchases were defensive only, and that “third countries have nothing to fear from the Russian/Iranian link-up.”

Russia is currently assisting Iran in its nuclear power program, which Moscow asserts is exclusively for non-military uses. Russia has branded as a “far-fetched pretext” the U.S. concern that Iran, as well as other “states of concern,” could — or do presently — pose a nuclear threat.

The U.S. has consistently protested Russia’s arms sales and nuclear technology transfers to Iran.

Both Moscow and Beijing are providing Cuba with substantial amounts of assistance, from trade to military aid. This year, Putin and Chinese president Jiang Zemin paid state visits to the island, as commercial, technological and scientific assistance pours into Cuba.

Russia and China reportedly also operate important military surveillance facilities on the island.

Trips outside of Latin America are rare for Castro, and the exact itinerary of the remainder of his tour is uncertain, but Malaysia and Qatar are thought to follow his Iranian visit. His tour had earlier included travel to Algeria.

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